The Price of Acceptance

Thursday, 26 February, 2015 - 3:19 pm

Four men were introducing themselves to each other at a cocktail party. “Name is Cole.” Second guy says “Kane.” The next one says “Kean.” “The fourth guy smiles at them and says, “Also Cohen.”

What is it about Jews that makes them so desperate to try to fit in and gain acceptance into the societies around them? What price are they willing to pay in the loss of dignity, identity and meaningful religious experience in order to obtain this acceptance?

Let’s examine this issue through the lens of the Purim story. The book of Esther opens up with King Achashverosh throwing a big feast that lasted for 180 days. What was the reason for the feast? The Talmud explains that he was celebrating the establishment and security of his kingship and the end of the 70 years.

Jeremiah’s prophecy foretold that the Jews would be in exile for 70 years following the Babylonian conquest of the Jewish kingdom and the destruction of the first Holy Temple. There was some confusion as to when this 70 year period began. Achashverosh erred (as did King Belshazzar of Babylon several years earlier) and concluded that the 70 years had passed and that the G-d of the Jews had abandoned His promise to bring them back to Israel for the rebuilding of the Temple. To celebrate the notion that the Jews would be his forever, he held a party.

The Talmud further relates, that he became so emboldened by the end of the 70 years, that he decided to use the Temple’s golden utensils at the party and he came dressed in the vestments of the Kohen Gadol (high-priest). To make a greater mockery out of the situation, he invited the Jews to attend the party.

Sadly, the Talmud informs us, many Jews went happily to the party. They sense of self-respect and dignity was so low and their desire for acceptance was so high, that they tripped over themselves as they hurried to attend the party that celebrated their exile and eternal subjugation. They were so honored to be included by the gentile society, that they stood by as the Temple vessels and priestly garments were desecrated.

Though Mordechai protested and pointed out this irony, the allure of acceptance was so great for some of the Jews that they refused to see the situation for what it was. They allowed themselves to be used for the purpose of their own disgrace.

Did it help? Did it alleviate the Jew hating and persecution? Not in the least. On the heels of this party, one of the greatest threats to Jewish survival took place. Haman came out with a plan, a “final solution” to kill all Jews, from young to old, women and children, in one day.”

Fast forward to our times. It is said, “Those who did not learn from history are destined to repeat the same mistakes.” We continue to observe many Jews engaging in the same attempt to assimilate and become a part of society around them. They change their names. They change their lifestyles. They change anything that will make them look different. They are so happy to be invited to join Country Clubs and Mardi Gras Krewes. Does it help? Does it alleviate the Jew hating and persecution? Not in the least. Anti-Semitism is alive and well. Blatant discrimination against Jews is quite common in many circles. Whether we call ourselves Cole or Cohen it makes no difference. (On the contrary, a Jew is most respected when he or she displays a loyalty to the Jewish faith and heritage.)

Anti-Semitism aside, why is it worth the high price of loss of dignity, identity and meaningful religious experience in order to obtain this acceptance? We are giving up the biggest treasures available to a human being for the fleeting feeling of acceptance. Let us learn this lesson from the Purim story and start embracing our identity, our dignity and our precious relationship with G-d rather than throwing it away for a cheap and momentary thrill.

Mazal Tov to Aline and Gary Connelly upon the birth of their daughter Mila and Mazal Tov to the grandparents, Linda and Simon Waknin.

Mazal Tov to Lily Shapiro and her family upon her Bat Mitzvah this weekend.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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