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Monday, 19 October 2015

Mingle at the Kiddush

Daf Yomi Nazir 58

Of our patriarch Yaakov’s twelve sons, two stood out as the leaders: Yehuda and Yosef.  What made them special?

Let’s begin by comparing them to Yaakov’s least favourite children.  Even as he lay on his deathbed, he criticized Shimon and Levi for their behaviour in Shechem.  When Shechem, the prince of the city, desired to marry their sister Dina, they destroyed the city and all its inhabitants.  They thought of the Hivites as way too different to themselves – they were uncircumcised, unworthy of their sister.

In contrast, Yehuda and Yosef both managed to maintain their strong Israelite identity even amongst the nations.  Yosef went down to Egypt and never forgot who he was, despite his constant interaction with the Egyptians.  Yehuda went down to intermingle with the Canaanites, none the less maintaining his identity – to the extent that he became the forebear of the Davidic dynasty, which will culminate in Moshiach!

Rava inquires: The Torah states, “They shall place on the tzitzis of the corner a cord of blue,” meaning that the cord should be the same material as the corner.  But it also states, “Wool and linen together.  You shall make for yourself fringes,” meaning that the garment may be wool and the tzitzis linen or vice versa.  How are we to reconcile these two teachings?
He answers: Wool and linen may be used (as tzitzis) whether on garments of their type (i.e. the same material) or a different type.  Any other type (of material), if it is their type they are acceptable for use; if it is not their type, they are not acceptable.

Some people will only mix with people of their ‘type.’  If others are ‘their type, they are acceptable.  If not, they are not acceptable.’  They have no time for people who do not share their social status, background, and skin colour.  What a shame!  They are missing out on so much of what life has to offer!

The law of tzitzis teaches us that it is healthy sometimes to ‘hang around’ (pun intended) people who do not share your political views, social or professional status.  You’ll grow as a human being as you widen your horizon to interact with all different types of people. 

Wool and linen are special – they can hang around any type. Why?  Because they are comfortable in (on?) their own skin.  Wool is the best garment to wear during winter – it is natural and warm.  Linen is the best garment to wear during the summer – it is natural and cool.  Wool and linen don’t have anything to prove to anyone, they have no ‘hang-ups’ (here we go again!).  You need to be more like wool and linen – be comfortable with you who you are and able to mix freely amongst different characters.

Is there a Sefardic synagogue in your neighbourhood you’ve never ventured into?  Maybe you sit with the same people at Kiddush each week in shul?   It’s time you expanded your horizons, met new people.   Just like Yosef and Yehuda, if you are strong in your own identity, you never need to be wary of mingling with others.  You can learn something from everyone.  As Herman Wouk would respond to those who say we should keep to ourselves and learn only from Jews, ‘Have you ever taken an aeroplane?  The Wright brothers weren’t Jewish, you know?!’

Federations of North America has a wonderful program called P2G – Partnership Together.  Israeli students twin with North American students and they each spend a week in the other’s home town and school.  The initiative forges strong bonds between the students, and ultimately between Israeli and Diaspora communities, bonds that last a lifetime.  The kids stay in touch and will, please G-d, forever carry the responsibility of the Diaspora to our brothers and sisters in Israel and vice versa.  No longer do Diaspora kids think of Israelis as culturally different; they grow to realize how similar they truly are.

Imagine we could reproduce such a program between Israeli and Palestinian kids, where each spend a week in the other’s school.  I can imagine my Israeli readers saying, ‘Totally, how about you send your kids to Jenin or Ramallah for a week?’  It’s probably a pipe dream that will not happen in the foreseeable future.  But we do need to seek ways to mingle a little more so that they stop dehumanizing us.   At the moment, we have no choice but to place concrete barriers around them to protect our brothers and sisters from their terror; but please G-d, the day will come when we can live in peace and security with our neighbours.  The only way to do that is if we are in some sort of neighbourly dialogue.

May we have peace in the Holy Land immediately!

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