The focus of this week’s Torah portion for me was the narrative where Jacob (Yakov Avinu) leaves his home town of Be’er Sheva and journeys to Charan. Be’er Sheva is a place of comfort for Jacob. There Reside his family, friends, and community; where he lives a quiet, easy, comfortable lifestyle filled with all sort of Yiddishkeit. Charan on the other hand is a place that is void of any Yiddishkeit, or at least obvious Judaism.
In recent years I have come to the realization that some Jewish communities insulate themselves and rarely venture out into the secular world. These communities are often cocooned in a little city area – a modern-day shtetl – and really don’t face the contemporary world, certainly that part of it where one faces many challenges to our Judaism. Many other Jewish people live there following a very secular lifestyle that conceals, almost hides, their Judaism. This group’s participation in Yiddishkeit only takes place in the comfort of their home or at Synagogue. For many participants in this group, their Yiddishkeit doesn’t appear, or confront them, on a daily basis.
What guides us to the correct way of life? Should you wrap yourself in a cocoon, isolating yourself from the many challenges of living a Judaic lifestyle? Maybe you should live a double life, one of secularism in the modern world and Judaism at home. Is there another option in order to say faithful to the principals, ideals and ways of a Torah true Judaism? And does Torah instruct us in this regard?
In the Torah portion of Vayeitzei, Yakov leave the comfort of Be’er Sheva and journeys into the hostile world of Chorran. The great sages, teachers and Rebbes tell us that Yakov guarded the Torah and commandments and kept Yiddishkeit flowing in the hostile land of Choran. Every day he was faced with forces that wanted him to change and adapt to ways that were less than ideal for a Torah observant man, but Yakov Avinu was able to keep his Judaism open and honest in the face of great pressures from his new community and extended family.
The Torah tells through our great commentators that we must go out into the “hostile” secular world with our Judaic-face-on (game-face-on). We must not cocoon ourselves into a comfort zone or isolate ourselves in a shtetl. We must face the world in order to make the un-g-dly g-dly. Elevate everything in the world towards G-d. As an example, some communities shy away from computers and internet because of the ungodly and negative aspects that are found on the internet. Other communities use the internet in order to spread the joy of Yiddishkeit and promote a Torah observant lifestyle. These people know the dangers that lurk on the internet and take great precautions to avoid them. They also see that the internet offers possibilities as a way to reach Jews and its ability to carry G-d’s messages instantly and to many people, and in a sense it elevates the internet as a medium to help fulfill our G-dly purpose in life.
There are many examples in the Torah that teach us that we need to go out into the world around us, remain Jewish and elevate everything around us to the G-dly. How many times do we enter into the wider, secular world and our Judaism stays hidden? Is this how we should be as a nation, as a people, as Jews?
As Jews, when we go into the secular, we must not only take the teaching of Torah, Talmud, Tanya and other great Jewish texts and use them in our own lives to protect ourselves, and help us stay true to our Torah-based principles, but we must help construct the world by making the things around us have a G-dly purpose and we must be proud enough of our heritage and traditions that we are able to wear them openly and on our sleeves.
Note: I’m not judging anyone on how they define their Judaism or participation in a Judaic lifestyle because I once too was someone who concealed their Judaism, only letting it out at home or in Synagogue. What I now write is my view of what I now consider the most appropriate way to stay true to the principles and practices of Torah true Judaism.