Friday, June 09, 2023

Our patriarch Abraham’s famous description of himself to the Hitthites of old as a ger ve-toshav anokhi imahem was used by our great master and teacher, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l, for his famous formulation of our status as committed Jews in a predominantly non-Jewish society:

Abraham’s definition of his dual status, we believe, describes with profound accuracy the historical position of the Jew who resides in a predominantly non-Jewish society. He was a resident (toshav), like other inhabitants of Canaan, sharing with them a concern for the welfare of society, digging wells, and contributing to the progress of the country in loyalty to its government and institutions. Here, Abraham was clearly a fellow citizen, a patriot among compatriots, joining others in advancing the common welfare. However, there was another aspect, the spiritual, in which Abraham regarded himself as a stranger (ger). His identification and solidarity with his fellow citizens in the secular realm did not imply his readiness to relinquish any aspects of his religious uniqueness. His was a different faith and he was governed by perceptions, truths, and observances which set him apart from the larger faith community. In this regard, Abraham and his descendants would always remain “strangers.”

In our lifetime here in the United States, we have been blessed to be fully engaged in general society and reap its material and social benefits, while maintaining full commitment to our unique spiritual heritage, without discrimination. As citizens of this medinah shel hesed, we have received the protection and support of our elected officials and the government. We have been blessed to reap the blessings of liberty, freedom and the pursuit of our individual and communal rights in a fashion unprecedented in Jewish history, and live as equal citizens who take upon themselves the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

As we approach Memorial Day, 2023, we join together with our fellow citizens of the United States and in our locales to honor all those who have fallen in defense of our country. In that spirit, I urge and encourage every member of our community to attend the official Memorial Day service that will be taking place in your local town. This is a day when we can join together as toshavim with all our fellow citizens in common respect and memorial.

Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot
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