Embracing our "Otherness"

Thursday, 21 July, 2016 - 10:28 pm

In 1972, Israel’s Ambassador to the US was Yitzhak Rabin, who would later serve twice as Prime Minister. In honor of the Rebbe’s 70th birthday in March, Rabin was directed to travel to New York to represent Israel’s president Zalman Shazar in paying respects to the Rebbe.

During the course of their conversation the Rebbe asked Rabin if he ever felt alone as the representative of the Jewish state in Washington. The Rebbe then introduced an idea from this week’s Torah portion, where the evil prophet Bilaam describes the Jewish people as “Am l’vadad yishkon - a nation that dwells alone.”

The discussion came around to the question of what is the cause of this “aloneness” – is it by choice or by force? Are we “other” or different because we are or because that’s how we are seen by the world around us.

For the full story see To hear PM Rabin tell it in his own words Told by Rabin’s aide Dr. Yehuda Avner

The conclusion was that it is a combination of both. We must live up to the “otherness” that G-d designated for us at Sinai by being dedicated to the ideals and values of Torah. As a result we are seen as “other” by the world around us. Sometimes that otherness generates respect, such as in Thomas Chahill’s the Gift of the Jews or Paul Johnson’s History of the Jews, and sometimes it generates resentment that can even devolve into anti-Semitism.

As Jews we must be cognizant of the responsibility that this “otherness” places before us and of which we are so often reminded of in one of the two aforementioned ways by society around us. We cannot run away from it and escape that responsibility. Indeed every time in our nation’s history that Jews sought to escape their “otherness” by assimilating, they were in for a rude awakening by people eager to remind them that they were “other.” Instead let us embrace our “otherness” and harness it to continue accomplishing great things for ourselves as individuals, for the Jewish people as a nation, and for the world as a whole.

When we do this we ultimately merit the fulfillment of the Bilaam’s later prophecy, “A star has gone forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel” alluding to the future redemption through Moshiach. May this take place very soon.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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