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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Spiritual Inclusion

Daf Yomi Kiddushin 75

In an effort to assimilate all nations and ethnic groups into Assyrian culture, the seventh century BCE King Sennacherib would displace peoples, uprooting them from their lands and supplanting them in other countries.  The Cutheans, also known as the Samaritans, were originally non-Jewish tribes that were inserted into Israel after he exiled the ten tribes from the Northern Kingdom of Israel. 

While the Cutheans initially maintained their non-Jewish practices, one day they found themselves at the mercy of a pack of lions that had massed in the area.  Turning to the Jews for assistance, the southerners suggested they turn to G-d.  They agreed and converted en masse to Judaism.  Nevertheless, their sincerity was forever a topic of contention amongst the rabbis.  After all, did they convert because they really felt close to G-d or simply to get rid of the lions?

Rabbi Yishmael maintains: The Cutheans are invalid lion converts and the Cohanim who mixed with them were unfit Cohanim.  As the verse states, “And they made for themselves, of some of them (miktzosam), altar priests.”
And Rabba bar bar Chana quoted Rabbi Yochanan: [Miktzosam means] from the “kotzim” of the people. 
Rashi explains: These people were “muktzeh” (set apart) from the people as invalid.

Why did these Cohanim join the Cutheans?  Because they were rejected from the Jews.  The Jewish community had concerns about their priestly status and so avoided employing them as local priests.  And so they headed up north to the Cutheans to find work.  They ended up mixing with them and becoming part of their nation.  That’s why you find the ‘cohen gene’ amongst the Samaritans in Israel today.

Unfortunately, the Samaritans were not the best friends of the Jewish people.  When we returned from Persia to build the Second Temple, they caused us much grief and managed to have the construction halted.  They were constantly instigating against our nation, all the while being served by these tainted Cohanim that we had rejected.

Today, we are considerably more sensitive around issues of inclusion than in the past.  If someone has a physical or mental disability, we do our best to accommodate them.  All our institutions must be specially equipped for every individual, and we provide special services for the deaf and blind.  Indeed, affirmative action and equal opportunity policies call for us to take measures above and beyond those we take for non-handicapped persons, so that no individual should ever feel excluded or rejected.

How about spiritual inclusion?  Sadly, the quasi-Cohanim of yore felt there was no place for them with the Jewish people.   That was not only bad news for them, but when they went and joined the ‘spiritual competition,’ it was bad news for us as well.

Our Jewish community must strive for spiritual inclusion.  All too often, we assume that everyone is on the same religious page us as, because spiritual handicaps are not as visible as physical disabilities.   But they’re not.  Every shul is made up of a wide range of backgrounds and abilities.  Some of us grew up with tradition, others didn’t.  Some of us did well in yeshiva, others didn’t.  Some of us are spiritually inspired, others aren’t. 

What are we doing to promote spiritual inclusion?   Does your shul have a kippah box, or do you assume everyone who comes has one with them?  Does your shul have page announcements, or do you assume everyone there knows which page the chazan is up to?  Does your shul offer a beginners’ service, or do you assume everyone can keep pace with the main service? 

When we lack inclusion policies, what happens?  Those who are excluded feel a sense of rejection and end up seeking spiritual solace and inspiration elsewhere.  That's not good for their souls, nor is it good for our people.  May you strive to make your shul and community completely spiritually inclusive!

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