Can You Opt Out Of Being Jewish?

Friday, 8 January, 2021 - 12:52 pm

Much of everyone’s energy this week has been focused on the COVID surge, vaccines and the unrest in Washington. So I will take the liberty of redirecting the focus away from them to something that has the potential to be more inspiring.

We began to read the book of Exodus this week. Did you know that as many as four of five Israelites did not participate in the Exodus? We think of the Exodus as being engraved into the identity of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet, up to 80% of them did not leave Egypt. How could this be? Why would this happen? Why was G-d so selective in determining who deserved to be liberated? Finally, and this is much closer to home, who’s to say this won’t happen again at the time of the future redemption very soon?

There were plenty of nasty folks that managed to get out. There were idol worshippers, rabble rousers and others. That sets the bar pretty low. What was wrong with the other 80% that makes them even less deserving?

The Rebbe explains, that it was the promise of liberation that Hashem made to our forefathers, which defined our loving relationship with G-d. Parents are willing to put up with a lot from their children. But if the (adult) child denies the relationship, there is not much left to do. Similarly, the 80% of Israelites that did not make it out of Egypt (they died during the plague of darkness), were the ones who did not accept Moshe’s announcement that Hashem was going to liberate them from Egyptian slavery. They refused to believe that Hashem would keep His promise to Avraham. In effect this was a denial of the relationship. So there was nothing for them.

So does that mean that in 2021 a Jew that declines to believe that Hashem will redeem us from this exile is going to face a similar fate? Emphatically not! The Rebbe goes on to differentiate between the time of the exodus and our present time. The key difference is what took place at Sinai.

When G-d declared in singular form, “I am the L-rd your G-d,” thereby designating us as His people collectively and individually, we no longer have the choice to opt out of being Jewish. We can (foolishly) choose not to do anything Jewish. But we cannot choose to not “be” Jewish. That choice was made by G-d. We can kick, scream and protest, but it will be for naught. Who we are, will either haunt us or uplift us (or a little of both,) for all time. In fact the prophet Isaiah (27:12) assures us that “you shall be gathered one by one, O children of Israel.”

So we now know that “no Jew will be left behind.” Let’s embrace that and share it with every Jew with whom we interact. This is our destiny and we should make the most of it!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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