Today is January 18, 2018 -
Our Torah potion begins with a familiar verse that harkens back to the beginning of our people. “The Lord said to Abram, “Lech L’cha Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you…” (Genesis 12:1-3) Note that the promise is to make Abram a “great nation,” not a great individual, a clear proclamation that peoplehood, a shared national existence is a central aspect of Judaism. We have a common history. The Jewish people are a large extended family and that gives us a sense of belonging. We feel a responsibility for each other. We share a vision for our people and for the world, for we are commanded to be “a holy nation.”
Yet today that sense of cohesiveness has weakened. Individualism has triumphed in American culture loosening our ties to each other. Even the United Jewish Appeal calls to us to give tzedakkah not because “We are one” or because “All Jews are responsible for each other,” as they did in the past. Today their slogan is, “Give generously, it does a world of good.” The marketers at UJA know that many Jews no longer resonate to appeals about mutual responsibility, but will respond to a phrase about giving as a personal good and an emphasis that their donations help the whole world and not just the Jewish people. Many Jews have lost a sense of relationship to each other that has always been central to Judaism. Can we still find deep meaning, and spiritual uplift from our common history, our ties to the State of Israel, our obligations to each, our vision of the future, and our sense of belonging to the Jewish people? God told Abram, the first Jew that we are a “great nation” and I hope we will be able to continue to make peoplehood a central aspect of our Jewish identity.