Who We Should Strive To Be
Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
It is everywhere.
Front pages, back pages.
Jewish press, national press.
There is anger, upset and fury.
What do we do? What can we do?
One of the biggest problems, is that people (Jewish and non-Jewish) feel that this is the way religious Jews behave. That is why leaders such as the Chief Rabbi have come out and unequivocally said that ‘such illegal behaviour is abhorred by the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community’.
So how should religious Jews behave? How should Jews behave?
There is the midrash that famously says that even though we were on the 49th level of impurity we merited redemption from Egypt during last week and this week’s Parshiot as we kept our Jewish names, Jewish dress and Jewish language.
However, I have a problem with that Midrash. My name is Andrew, I dress like a westerner and I speak English – would I therefore have not been redeemed?
The strange thing is with that logic, I know someone else who would not have been redeemed!
His name is Moshe Rabbenu.
Moshe’s name was given to him not by his parents, his name was given to him by Batya – Parohs daughter – and that is what he is known as for the rest of his life, his secular name.
We know when he rescued Yitro’s daughters he was called ish mitzri by them to Yitro – the midrash tells us there, that his clothes were Egyptian.
And later we hear that he cannot speak, he has aral sefatayim – uncircumcised lips, again the midrash fills in the details, he speaks Egyptian.
So our leader and saviour does not fit into the paradigm of Jewish name, dress and language so how are we to understand this Midrash?
Let me offer an explanation which will hopefully will inspire us despite all the chillul Hashem occurring in our community and can motivate us to live lives of Kiddush Hashem.
What is a Jewish name? It cannot simply be that Yosef is and Barry isn’t. Pirkei Avot spells it out, it is what we are known as, do we have a shem tov – a good name.
R’ Shimon says there are three crowns: the crown of Torah and the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship (civil rule) and the crown of a good name rises above them all.
(Pirkei Avot 4:13)
When people say our name what do they think of? A good Jewish person, observant of the mitzvot, kind, friendly, honest, trustworthy, law abiding. Or someone who cheats, lies, is rude and dismissive. That is your Jewish name, when people think of you, do they think of a Kiddush or Chillul Hashem.
It doesn’t matter what your name is, what matters is how you act – that defines your name.
What about clothing? What is Jewish clothing? I don’t think Avraham Avinu wore a black hat, or Moshe had a big kippah sruga, or Shmuel Ha Navi dressed in a kappota for Shabbat – the only Jewish clothing I know is tzizit and a kippah.
However, it goes far deeper than that. How is a Jew to dress? Hopefully with modesty, cleanliness and pleasantness. But Jewish clothing also means that the clothes we wear, do they bring us respect or do they bring on negative comments and looks. Furthermore, how do we wear our clothes? Do we walk around with a sense of entitlement, feeling that we are superior or is there a sense of humility, of openness.
How we dress is not just about what we wear – but also how we wear it.
And our language? Is our language Hebrew, or Yiddish or Aramaic? It is how do we speak. A Jew should speak politely, with care, concern – no room for crass, rude or immoral words. Are our words honest? Do we make sure that our word is our bond? Are we refraining from Loshen Hora, do we speak with empathy and thoughtfulness?
Jewish language is far more than linguistics, it is not in what language you speak but how you speak and how you use your words.
So ask yourself, if in those definitions, if all Jews dressed Jewish, spoke Jewish and their names were Jewish, would there not be a proud people who saw the absolute joy and honour in being Jewish – and the rest of the world would concur.
It is very easy to criticise – and I have and I will continue to decry any Chillul Hashem that I see – but I also realise that I have to make sure that I am doing what Hashem expects of me with my name, my language and my dress.
We should all be striving to be Torah Jews, Jews that the Torah would be proud of.
Next week, with the receiving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments, we will learn that means observing both mitzvot ben adam l makom and ben adam l chavero. You cannot have one without the other.
As long as we strive for this excellence and live our lives in this way, then I believe, just like in Mitzrayim, Geulah is not too far away.
I want to make clear that, in last week’s Machshavot, I was not personally attacking anyone specific or making a comment about Gedolei Yisrael but focussing on the tremendous Chillul Hashem that is being caused by people who are endangering lives.