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Keeping Up With the Joneses and the Schwartzes

Friday, 8 October, 2021 - 3:55 pm

Sometime in the early 1950s my grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Gordon OBM, brought a group of Bar Mitzvah boys from his Hebrew School in Newark, NJ to the see the Rebbe. The Rebbe asked one of the boys if he was planning to continue his Jewish studies next school year. In typical American Jewish fashion of the time, the boy replied in the negative. The Rebbe asked why. He explained that none of the kids on his block were going after their Bar Mitzvahs either. The Rebbe asked him which topic in the Torah he enjoyed learning this year, to which he responded, the story of Noah and the Ark. The Rebbe pointed out, “If Noah had done what all the people of his block were doing, then there would have been nobody left for G-d to save. Only because he did what was right, despite it being unpopular, do we have human history as we know it.”

Then the Rebbe asked the next boy the same question. He too gave the same answer and reason. When the Rebbe asked which Torah topic he enjoyed, he mentioned the story of Avraham. The Rebbe pointed out the Avraham was called the Ivri (Hebrew), which means that he was on a side opposite of everyone else. While the whole world pursued foolish fantasies of idolatry, Avraham discovered and preached a faith in Hashem. “Imagine if Avraham had done what everyone else on his block were doing, then there would be no Jewish people. Only because he did what was right, despite it being unpopular, do we have a Jewish people and a Judaism today.”

Keeping up with Joneses, or even with the Schwartzes, is not always the path to pursue. We must have an inner moral compass, that empowers us to do what is right, despite it being unpopular. Obviously, we must be pleasant to those around us. There is no room for condescension or feelings of elitism. Just doing the right thing!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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