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Assimilation or Isolation

Friday, 15 February, 2019 - 2:32 pm


(adapted from Rabbi Y. Goldman) 

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.

In tomorrow’s Torah portion we read about the pure olive oil used to kindle the menorah in the sanctuary that our ancestors built in the desert The Rebbe once taught that it is oil that holds the secret formula for how we can successfully live proud Jewish lives in a non-Jewish environment.

Oil, you see, is a paradox. On the one hand, it spreads quickly and easily, seeping through and permeating the substances with which it comes in contact.

On the other hand, when mixed with other liquids, oil stubbornly rises to the surface and refuses to be absorbed by anything else.

Like oil, we too, will often find ourselves mixing in a wide variety of circles — social, business, civic, communal or political. At the very same time, though, we need to remember never to lose our own identity and dilute our own Jewish persona.

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 associates might worry whether we might not betray them next.

Every once in a while I go out for lunch meetings in a kosher restaurant. There I sometimes find one Jewish business person at a table with many non-Jewish partners, clients, bosses, or would-be clients. They are all eating in this kosher restaurant because of this one Jew and they are quite happy to accommodate individual needs and sensitivities (especially since kosher dining is quite good!).

Many times 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 impresses our associates and inspires them with greater confidence in our trustworthiness.

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.

If we are able to reach the balance of "perfect oil"; if we are able to involve ourselves within our society as proud Jews – then we will have become a true Or La’goyim – a light unto the nations.

Shabbat Shalom,


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