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Community or Individual, A Jewish Perspective - April 14 2017

Community or Individual, A Jewish Perspective - April 14 2017

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Shabbat is a time I look forward to every week. I shut off my phone, close the computer and spend some twenty five hours with my family and community. After Shabbat, on Saturday night, it all comes back. The phone, the work and the overall loud buzz of twenty first century life. 

The holidays are a similar experience. Coming off the heels of a beautiful, inspiring Seder on Monday and Tuesday, it's a bit disheartening to turn on the news and read about nuclear threats from North Korea and bombs in Afghanistan. As I skimmed through the news I reminded myself that our job as human beings and as Jews is not to solve all the world's problems, or get bogged down by them, but to make the best of every situation in our personal lives.

At the Passover Seder we read the story of the Exodus from the Haggadah. Right before we read the story, we read a paragraph where we invite anyone who doesn't have a place for the Seder to join our own. 'Anyone who is hungry shall join us us and eat' we say.

Caring for others is the bedrock of Judaism, without which nothing else stands. A beautiful painting cannot be made from one color. We all have something special to offer that no one else can, and emphasis on community life is essential in Jewish tradition.

That said, there is also an acute focus on the importance of the individual. One of the most powerful illustrations of this in Jewish life is in the following scenario: If an enemy laid siege to a town and demands that one individual be surrendered to be executed, and if not they threaten to wipe out the whole town, are we allowed to surrender that one individual to save the community? The answer in Jewish law is an unequivocal no.

Why? Because life is immeasurable. The value of one person is not a number. Each life is a world unto itself and has an infinite worth.

So which one is it? Is the community and social welfare important or do the rights of the individual reign supreme? 

The way the Torah sees it, the community is important through the individual. If a society respects the rights of each and every human being to dignity, freedom and self determination, then automatically that society will be a selfless, community-oriented one. 

If, however, the society is always focused on the overriding value of the community and social welfare at the expense of individual rights, that society will turn to selfishness and authoritarianism. 

Our mission in life is to beautify our world with acts of goodness and kindness, Torah and Mitzvot. That mission is accomplished by lighting up the world one small candle at a time. One coin in a homeless man's cup. One visit to a patient in a hospital. Lighting Shabbat candles one time. Keep on lighting those small candles. When you turn around after a while you'll see a tremendous light behind you, comprised of all those good deeds.

Rabbi Avrohom

 

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