This Shabbos is a most important one, as it signifies the joining together of Jews from across the world in an effort to increase the awareness of the importance of Shabbos. Modeled after a successful Shabbos Project last year during which 70% of South African Jews kept Shabbos together, the goal was to spread this event worldwide. I hope that this program will enhance Jewish life in Rhode Island and across the country and that the achdus generated will bring us one step closer to the geulah. As Mordechai Ben David sang in his song years ago, “Just one Shabbos and we’ll all be free.” Why me, is the question many of us may ask; I have my own challenges and busy schedule as I raise my family, and kiruv is not my forte?
In an impassioned speech at a recent Torah Umesorah conference, Mr. Gary Torgow, a Detroit lay leader, outlined the statistics and charged his audience with a mission. With his permission, I share with you his charge.
The recently completed Pew Study revealed that the recent trends are moving us with record speed into a permanently altered Jewish demographic. The statistics are astounding, as 40% of Jewish Americans think a sense of humor is critical to leading an enriched Jewish life. Fifty-five percent say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, and a staggering 2/3 say it is not necessary to believe in G-d to be Jewish. Intermarriage rates are rising substantially every year. In a study outside of the Orthodox community, nearly six out of ten Jews who have gotten married since the year 2000 have a non-Jewish spouse. By comparison, roughly 4 in 10 who got married in the 1980’s had a non-Jewish spouse, and among Jews who got married before 1970, just 17% had a non-Jewish spouse.
Rabbi Daniel Gordis, a prominent and respected voice amongst the Conservative leadership, said it best. “America's openness and freedom were an irresistible allure, far too powerful for many to resist. And then, leaders of all varieties of liberal Judaism decided to lower the barriers in order to further constituency retention.” How right he was! They expected less of their congregations, reduced educational demands, and offered sanitized worship, reconfigured to meet the declining knowledge levels of their flock. The high rate of intermarriage has virtually eradicated any incentive for Jews to marry people with whom they could pass on meaningful Jewish identity. Instead of taking pages from the halachic playbook, they reduced the halachic requirements, doing exactly the opposite of what we know to be the only methodology to create more commitment to Torah and a Torah way of life.
There is a remarkable Gemara in Maseches Makkos which relates the incident in which a lion killed and devoured a Jew at a location a few miles from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi's home. Eliyahu Hanavi subsequently appeared to Reb Yehoshua to inform him that he no longer wished to visit with him because the person who was killed lived in his neighborhood. We must realize that Reb Yehoshua ben Levi was such a great person that he entered Gan Eden alive. He even took the knife away from the Malach Hamaves and was able to ignore his pleas to return it. The Gemara tells us that despite Reb Yehoshua's greatness, it was held against him that Hashem punished someone this way so close to his home.
Avraham waited for the malachim, “k’chom hayom - like the heat of the day.” We would think the Torah should have written “b’chom hayom - in the heat of the day.” A commentator explains that just like the heat of the sun spreads all over, Avraham’s tent was open on all sides. Avraham established the Schacharis prayer, and the word “Shacharis” is an acronym for Chochom, Rasha, Tam, and She’aino yodea lishol. Avraham’s tent was open to all Jews, regardless of their affiliation.
The Gemara in Menachos relates: When an individual wants to put windows in his house, he makes them wide toward the inside and narrow toward the outside. This is an order to better receive the light that enters from the outside into the home. In contrast, the windows of the Bais Hamikdash were wide toward the outside and narrow toward the inside, so that the light emanating from the Bais Hamikdash would shine toward the outside and light up the world.
We are living in Ikvesa Demeshicha, the time leading up to the coming of Mashiach, and the Torah scholarship of the Orthodox world is getting stronger. Our charge is to open our windows a little wider and share the beauty and the light that exist within our homes, schools, yeshivos, and kollelim for the rest of the world to see.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman