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Tetzaveh

Tetzaveh

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 Jews and Oil

Today, the walls of the ghetto no longer sequester us from the rest of society. We fraternize and do business with non-Jews on a daily basis and have become fully adjusted to western culture. The contemporary question is: how do we strike a balance between retaining our Jewish identity on the one hand, while at the same time being citizens of the world, especially when that world may be indifferent or even hostile to our Jewishness?

In this week's Parshah we read about the pure olive oil which Moses was instructed to obtain for the kindling of the menorah in the Mishkan, the sanctuary built in the desert as the forerunner of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that oil holds the secret formula for how to successfully live a proud Jewish life in an environment which may be far from Jewishly conducive.

Like oil, Jews, too, will often find themselves mixing in a wide variety of circles — social, business, civic, communal or political. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. At the very same time, though, we need to remember never to lose our own identity. We should never mix to the point of allowing our own Jewish persona to be swallowed or diluted.

We often feel a strong pressure, whether real or imagined, to conform to the norms around us. Few among us enjoy sticking out like a sore thumb. The fact is, however, that others respect us more when we respect ourselves. If we are cavalier in our commitment to our own principles, then our non-Jewish associates might worry whether we might not betray them next.

Just one example. Every major city of the world has any number of kosher restaurants filled with Jewish business people entertaining non-Jewish partners, clients, or would-be clients. Some establishments may be more upmarket than others, but everyone seems to manage and the deals get done. One can be perfectly sociable without giving up one’s principles. Most people are quite happy to accommodate individual needs and sensitivities. It seems to me that it is the Jews who complain more about the availability of "good kosher restaurants" than the non-Jews. Our apprehensions about stating our religious requirements are often exaggerated and unfounded. Provided we do it honestly, respectfully and consistently, our adherence to a code of values will impress our associates and inspire them with greater confidence in our trustworthiness in all areas of activity.

A friend of mine was a young doctor when he was called up for a stint of national military service. He was very obviously religious from his yarmulke and beard. In fact, the beard didn’t exactly meet army regulations and it was only with great difficulty that he managed to obtain special permission to keep it. Far from being a nuisance, he conducted himself with dedication and integrity, and at the end of his tour of duty walked away with the Surgeon General’s top award for excellence. That was a Kiddush Hashem — a public sanctification of G‑d by a proud, practicing Jew who found himself in a decidedly unJewish environment.

Compromising our values and principles is a sure way to lose the respect we crave from the world around us. Dignity, pride and self-respect earn us the esteem and admiration of those around us, whether Jews or non-Jews. It is a time-tested and well-proven method.

Just learn from the oil. By all means, spread around and interact with the rest of the world. But remember your uniqueness. Be distinctive and proud and know where to draw the line.

 

 




 

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