In Plain Language: No monopoly on morality

The backbone of the Jewish People, the refusal to bow to evil and intimidation from our enemies, is precisely the kind of posture we need.

Synogogue in Slovakia (photo credit: Courtesy)
Synogogue in Slovakia
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Life in Israel is, without a doubt, Judeo-centric. Being that we are far and away the majority in this country – 75 percent and steadily growing, thank God – there is a very natural feeling here that it’s all about us, that all of life revolves around us. For the first time in 2,000 years, someone else is the minority, and we control the flow.
That’s a good thing, of course, and primarily why we came to this country in the first place and reestablished the Jewish homeland. Ostensibly, this is the only known cure for anti-Semitism, the scourge of the ages; after all, you can’t be anti-Semitic if you are a Semite (though some do attempt it).
Our Torah abundantly reinforces the concept of Jewish self-importance, referring to us as “a treasured nation,” “a kingdom of priests,” “God’s firstborn” and, of course, the Chosen People.
We have a verse that proudly proclaims “For me, the whole world was created!” And the talmudic statement “Ten measures of beauty descended upon the world; nine were taken by Jerusalem and one by the rest of the world” makes it very clear just which nation and which city are preeminent in the universe.
No argument from this quarter, of course. But there is a flip side to this equation, one that has to be carefully measured and monitored.
While thankfully ridding ourselves of the dreaded “Diaspora mentality,” we cannot come to the point where we think we are God’s only creation, that others have no virtue, no value and nothing whatsoever to teach us. Far from it.
THIS POINT was driven home to me recently when I received an email from an American pastor living in a small rural town. He wrote that he had enjoyed a column of mine (keep those cards and letters coming, folks!) and wanted to know if it would be all right if he made copies of the article and gave them out to his congregants.
Wow! I stared at this letter for some time.
And then I asked myself what kind of a person would request permission from across the world to take an article to his local print shop and make copies. The answer: An ethical, moral, decent, principled person.
And then I asked myself if I would be so conscientious – or would I ridicule such a person as a freier, a patsy, an outof- touch do-gooder? I thought of the classic Jackie Mason routine where he bemoans the fact that everyone in America has heard his comedy tape, but that he only sold 12 copies! (“There are two things that no Jew ever buys,” remarked Mason, “one is packets of Sweet and Low, the other is my tape!”).
We have a knee-jerk reaction, all too often, to react negatively to anyone who isn’t us. But there are times when we could take a page or two out of their book.
IT WAS the final game of the season, the championship match between the tiny yeshiva high-school team in Dallas and the 10-times larger Catholic school in their league. I was visiting Dallas at the time, serving as a guest rabbi, and my close friend – whose son was the star of the yeshiva team – invited me to the game.
It was a nail-biter, close right up to the finish, but the Catholic kids were just too big and too fast, and they won.
When the final buzzer sounded, the coach of the Catholic squad called all his players – those on the floor and those on the bench – to come together in a huddle at center-court.
Inquisitive (read: nosy) person that I am, I snuck into that huddle to hear what was being said. And I’ll never, ever forget it.
“Boys,” said the coach, “we have just won the league championship. And I know y’all want to scream and whoop and pat yourselves on the back. And there’ll certainly be time for that – you deserve it. But first, I want each of you to give thanks to God for His part in our team’s success, and most of all, I want you to be humble in victory and congratulate the other team on a game well-played. After you do that, then you can go celebrate.”
The boys lined up, shook hands with every member of the yeshiva team, and complimented them on their having made it to the finals. And I stood in awe.
What a message, what menschen! And I asked myself, would I have done the same, had the outcome been reversed? We Jews are exemplary creations of the Almighty. But we do not have a monopoly on civilized behavior, on moral excellence or on simple, old-fashioned respect for the other guy. In fact, truth be told, there are times when we need to put a hold on being teachers, telling others how to behave, and become students of the Righteous Among the Nations who dot this planet.
OUR FAMILY experienced this basic goodness on a personal level, when our beloved son fell in battle against terrorists.
People of all colors and creeds, from all over the world, wrote and called us to offer condolences. We even received a “tribal teddy bear” from a group of Native Americans who told us “to squeeze and hug the bear every time we feel like giving up; and we will be hugging you back, across the miles.”
That bear, I confess, has come in handy more than once.
Many years ago, when the Soviet Jewry issue was just beginning to raise its head, a rabbi from Texas (the other Lone Star state!) came to see President Lyndon Johnson (history has shown that LBJ was an unsung hero for Israel in our fledgling and formative years).
The rabbi appealed to Johnson to use his influence to help an academic in Russia, who had been booted out of the Academy, to be able to get out of Moscow and emigrate to the West.
Johnson was visibly moved by the rabbi’s impassioned appeal and told him, in his famous Texas drawl, “Rabbi, I am so impressed by the way that your people stand up for [one] another and come to each other’s aid, whenever the need arises.”
The rabbi, somewhat taken aback, replied, “Mr. President, I think you misunderstood.
The person I’m asking you to help is not a Jew. He’s just a beleaguered Soviet citizen who deserves a fair shake.”
President Johnson was so taken by the rabbi’s selflessness that he not only helped that one man, he discreetly assisted countless others – Jews and non-Jews – to achieve their freedom.
Along with the well-known backbone of the Jewish People, that has stubbornly refused to bow to evil and intimidation from our enemies, this is precisely the kind of posture we need to have if we hope to lead the world by example and be the spiritual beacon of light we were charged to be.
The writer is a member of the Ra’anana city council and director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.