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Insular or involved: the two ways of being Jewish



Rabbi Ryan Goldstein, West Street Shul

The showdown between Yehuda and Yosef starts at the beginning of our parsha, and continues for millennia until our day. Yehuda was even ready to wage a tremendous war if necessary.

As Jewish people, we have always had two approaches to our place in this world. There is the Yehuda approach, where we see him going to the Land of Goshen and setting up places of Torah ahead of his family’s arrival. Yehuda doesn’t want to mix or get involved in the nitty-gritty negotiations and running of this world. He prefers to be separate from the bad influences that roam outside. Yosef, on the other hand, not only gets involved, but climbs the rungs of power until he can influence the major political decisions of Egypt. His descendants follow his example to this day, with powerful posts in some of the world’s major countries.

It is quite in vogue to aspire to live off-grid. People don’t want to rely on the government for the essentials. People want to free themselves from being reliant on other parties for their most basic needs. The same applies to a Torah lifestyle, where groups of people are convinced that the only way to ensure the continuity of their way of life is to shield their progeny from the allure of the outside. Such groups form their own close-knit, insular bubbles, which protect them from the complexities of modern-day life and its challenges. They have the pleasure of sitting and learning or davening all day long.

However, does this work? Does the second generation of bubbled groups retain its purity as a result of protection? Conversely, do those who live outside the bubble all get sucked into the ways and “joys” of secular life? Is this second generation truly doomed? Or, have exceptional individuals arisen from these greatest of challenges?

It comes down to us choosing between two legitimate ideologies: should a Jew cut himself off from the secular world, and live in an insular Torah world, free from TV and the internet? Or should he join the world, and have the opportunity to make a Kiddush Hashem and be a light to those who he meets? Obviously, both paths have their pros and cons. The important lesson for us is to accept and tolerate all Jews and their decisions, remembering that so long as the motives are l’shem Shamayim (in the name of heaven), everyone is right!

Have a safe holiday.

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