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by Lawrence Stroll
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer

This week’s issue marks the return of Lawrence Stroll’s popular Between Friends column. In case you forgot, this column tracks the e-mail correspondence between two friends. David is twenty-something,single, and non-observant. Ari is thirty-something, married with kids, and a ba’al teshuvah (returnee to traditional Torah observance). The younger friend is at a time in his life when he is looking for “more” (i.e. seeking spiritual growth and personal development) and generally writes to his older friend in search of advice. The older friend tries to provide useful and solid advice by drawing on the Torah portion of that week.

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Dear Ari,

I just spoke with a friend who got back from a trip to Israel and was he ever upset. He hadn’t been there in about 10 years and while it did move him spiritually to be in his "homeland" and seeing the Western Wall, he was quite a bit turned off by some of the personalities he encountered. The saddest part is that these personalities were Jews! The first thing that got his goat was how some of the most piously dressed and seemingly observant Jews were completely cold towards him. They literally wouldn’t even give him the time of day. On the other side of the spectrum, he says he was completely shocked at how his very friendly Israeli tour guide (also Jewish) had absolutely no regard for any of the ritual laws. From eating a cheeseburger on a fast day, to going dancing on Friday night with his non-Jewish girlfriend, it seemed like this guy couldn’t care less about anything Jewish; except for Israel, of course. Can this possibly be the same holy land and holy people referred to in our Torah?

Sincerely, Seeking Holiness (even in Israel!)

 

Dear David,

In spite of your friend’s negative experience, it still is the same holy land. As for the people, while we do come from the same gene pool, I think it’s fair to say that we cannot even hold a candle to the spiritual greatness of our biblical ancestors. Nevertheless, that does not absolve us of our responsibility of trying to attain similar heights of holiness once achieved by our predecessors. In order to do so, however, we must recognize that serving our Creator involves our scrupulously following both the commandments between us and our fellow Jew and the commandments between us and Hashem. The very first letter of this week’s Torah portion boldly illustrates this premise.

The opening verse states, "And these are the social laws which you shall set before them," and then proceeds to discuss a large number of the laws that exist between Jew and fellow Jew. Rashi notes that by beginning with the conjunction "and," the Torah links this week’s Torah portion with the preceding week’s portion that discusses the ten commandments. Just as the ten commandments were given over by Hashem at Mt. Sinai, so were the commandments regarding the interaction between fellow Jews.

The Torah is very clear that proper behavior toward our fellow Jew is as important as our observance of those laws that do not involve anyone but us and G-d. Similarly, observing things like the Sabbath and kosher dietary laws are as important as visiting the sick and giving charity. And as long as we mistakenly act as though one can exist without the other, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the Jewish people and to our own spiritual well-being.

In order to find the holiness that you seek (and the holiness that Hashem desires for us), every Jew needs to start paying closer attention to his and her own behaviors and attitudes. Are we too "inside-focused" to the point where getting to synagogue on time takes precedence over stopping to help a fellow Jew pick up a bag they dropped? Or, are we too "outside-focused" that we think being Jewish is only about being a doer of random acts of kindness, eating a bagel once a week, and knowing how to read Hebrew? Any Jew who is gravitating too heavily towards either end of the spectrum, is falling short of their full potential as a Jew.

Sincerely, Seeking Balance (even outside of Israel!)

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Lawrence Stroll is a financial planner and Family Wealth Counselor with Geller Financial Advisors in Atlanta.

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