August 24, 2006
Fight the Enemy by Being More Jewish
I was at a big, beautiful Jewish wedding two weeks ago when something unusual interrupted the traditional chuppah ceremony: someone came up and read a poignant prayer in English in support of our suffering Jewish brethren in Israel.
Initially, there was no doubt in my mind that this was an appropriate thing to do: dozens of Israeli soldiers had been killed in the preceding days, and the pain of this loss as well as the tremendous hardships in Israel over the past few weeks were undoubtedly on the minds of the assembled guests. But as the prayer wore on and the reader got all choked up, I couldn't help but wonder if this was bringing unintended sadness to a moment of personal joy.
A great many of us are consumed by the nasty war of existence Israel has been fighting, by the international diplomatic backlash against the Jewish state, and by the renewed chutzpah of an enemy intent on destroying us. It is natural that we should do anything we can to help, whether through charitable donations, public demonstrations or even prayers at weddings.
But in our zeal to do something, in our all-consuming anger at a cowardly and unjust enemy, it is easy to fall into a trap of putting other important things on hold, like our Jewishness.
Think of how many Shabbat dinners have been littered with conversations about Katusha rockets, anti-tank missiles, hypocritical U.N. resolutions and the need for more ground troops. Not that these things are unimportant, but are they more important than our age-old traditions of joyful songs and holy conversations on Shabbat? I've often thought that one of Yasser Arafat's hidden victories against the Jewish people was the darkening of millions of Shabbat dinners around the world.
The silver lining of Jewish unity in times of war is overrated. We forget how wars can throw us off our game. When you're transfixed in front of Fox News or Arutz Sheva, who has the inclination to take the kids to do a mitzvah? When you spend hours at dinner tables and in living rooms railing against the injustices visited on the Jewish people, who can focus on increasing his or her Jewish learning, or going to a conference on honoring our parents or strengthening our relationships?
Wars are brutal: We yell, we fight, we give money. Judaism is anything but brutal. It's delicate, complex, subtle. A war-like mentality is not our first choice. Wars promote coarseness, cockiness and smugness, not the ideal Jewish traits. We fight like lions when we have to, we express our outrage when we must, but we still keep an eye on the bigger fight: the need to strengthen our Jewish identity, beyond the temporary boost we get in times of war.
Cease-fire or no cease-fire, we seem to always be in crisis mode, which means we must be extra vigilant. When we're fighting only to survive, it's easy to lose sight of what makes us thrive. When fundraising letters promote one big crisis after another, it's easy to abandon the little details and daily obligations that make up the core of Jewish identity. This gives succor to our enemies, for they seek to destroy not just Jews but Judaism itself.
It seems to me that one way we can foil this enemy is to stop agonizing so much over the news and start doing more Judaism.
I, for one, will make a vow to spend two fewer hours complaining about Israel's situation and take my kids next Thursday to Tomchei Shabbat, the organization that provides Shabbat and holiday meals to the needy.
I will take another few hours from reading The New Republic, Commentary and The New York Times to take the kids to a retirement home to sing Shabbat songs.
I'll take some more time from watching Bill O'Reilly and Hannity and Colmes to play Aleph Bet Bingo and the Rashi Memory Game with the kids, and I might even find time to set up that Rambam class with Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller we keep talking about.
And on Friday night, I promise not to talk about Katusha rockets, and I will sing quite loudly (to my children's great torment) my favorite melodies.
Of course, I will continue to raise money for needy families in Israel, I will RSVP "yes" to any event that will help Israel, and I will continue to pray for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Israel.
In other words, I will kvetch less and do more.