George and Samantha were in my office. “Rabbi, we’re moving shuls. It’s not that we don’t like you. We just feel that this congregation is not the right fit for us. We’re different to most of the others in the shul.”
The Torah instructs us to use the hyssop plant for ritual purification. The Mishnah in tractate Negaim teaches that we may not use Greek-hyssop, blue-hyssop, desert-hyssop, Roman-hyssop, or any other form of hyphenated hyssop. The hyssop mandated by the Torah is just hyssop.
Abaye explains that any item whose name was modified with a hyphen prior to the giving of the Torah was excluded from the Divine commandment if the Torah mandates the plain species. When the Torah says hyssop it wants hyssop, with no strings attached.
Before the Torah was given, we were all Children of Israel, in time becoming known as Jews. Sadly, many of us feel that we need a hyphen next to ‘Jew.’ We feel the need to define ourselves as ‘Chasidic-Jew’ or ‘Yeshivish-Jew’ or ‘Modern-Orthodox-Jew’ or ‘Open-Orthodox-Jew’ or ‘Lubavitcher-Jew’ or ‘Conservative-Jew’ or ‘Reform-Jew,’ the list goes on and on.
To adhere to a particular philosophy of Judaism is fine – the Talmud is the obvious example of different paths to the Almighty (as long as they are within the boundaries of halacha). But Abaye says that first and foremost, we must recognize that prior to the giving of the Torah, we were all just Jews. Therefore we must validate and love every single Jewish person, independent of the hyphen.
That means praying together, celebrating together, and working together to create a large, broad and diverse community for all. Our Sages tell us, “The glory of the King is in a multitude of people.” G-d doesn’t want us shteibelize ourselves into tiny communities that don’t associate with one another; G-d wants us to celebrate our diversity as a single Jewish people, altogether under one roof.
Today, I pledge to love every Jew. We are all brothers and sisters who stood “as one person with one heart” at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. The hyphens that came much later are really not all that important to G-d. What’s important is that all of his children love one another, despite our different tastes in music or clothing style.