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Manhattan is an extraordinary place. It's busy, buzzing and is sure to keep you entertained for just about as much time as you hang around. (I'm actually sitting in midtown writing this between two Torah classes).

To me, what's amazing about this city, and the many Manhattan-inspired replicas around the globe, is the fact that it is entirely man made - a city of the people. It is an international trend-setter simply because of the people within it. 

When it was famously purchased by the Dutch in 1626 for 60 Guilders, there was nothing there - certainly nothing remarkable. It is uniquely the man made construction, culture, business and pulse that gave and continues to give it its singular allure.

Sure, there were great cities like Athens, Rome, Alexandria, Paris and London - but they always had another reason for their importance aside for the people. Most were situated at locations critical for trade, or had abundant natural resources or a unique climate. At the very least they were seats of government, usually authoritarian government which did not have much to do with the people.

NYC has none of that. No special geographic location (it's main import was people), no special natural resources, no unique climate and no seat of government (since 1790). Although it did start off as a port city, and still maintains that role, it has moved far beyond that. NYC is an international trend setter simply because of its people and their love of life.

As I sit here and watch people flagging down taxis, and getting frustrated if an empty one doesn't stop for them, it got me thinking about a lesson we can learn from the hub of life that is NYC:

In life we can either be leaders or followers. We may alternate between leader and follower dozens of times a day. But it's either one or the other.

Being a leader can be tough. Sometimes we feel like leaders, but we're simply following a general trend that is so large that we don't even realize we're actually being pulled along. Take something trivial like a t-shirt. We might feel unique in our own special t-shirt which we brought back from vacation, but we're actually following a general trend of wearing t-shirts. (Pharaoh didn't wear t-shirts!). 

There are many values and lifestyles which are readily available to be adopted, yet are tremendously undervalued. Judaism, for example, is not a bunch of rituals, matza balls or even a 'religion' (a word which sounds kind of eccentric, and to me never seemed to be an accurate description of Judaism). Rather, it is an endless, enduring source of inspiration, happiness, meaning, focus and connection to God that is truly invaluable - and serves as a compliment to everything we do. Every word of Torah and every Mitzvah contain tremendous spiritual energy waiting to be tapped into.

More often than not, it takes being a leader to appreciate and benefit from the boundless benefits Judaism has to offer.

We might feel a bit embarrassed if our friends find out that we brought more Judaism into our lives, whether in the form of Torah study, Shabbat, charity or any other Mitzvah.  It takes a sense of leadership to establish true Jewish commitment within ourselves. But that leadership, if we hold our own and stand proud of our heritage, not only reinforces our commitment, it leads the way for others as well.

NYC teaches us that people, even one person, have the power to create a culture, a movement, that can spread to many people beyond ourselves. 

Committing to be more involved in Jewish life, in addition to bringing tremendous satisfaction and meaning to our own lives, has the potential to impact many others as well. 

It takes a strong internal sense of leadership to do so, but it's well worth it.

Rabbi Avrohom