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Rabbi's Week In Review - 10/18/2021

10/18/2021 04:45:06 PM


As some of you know, I am on a rotating list of alumni and faculty from my seminary (the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York, not the one in Los Angeles) to write up a D’var Torah. Last week was my turn.  

Without going into great detail: Sarah, by offering Hagar to Avraham as a wife — leaving aside the offensive notions of bigamy and sexism for a moment — has been described by commentators as making a supreme act of sacrifice. This led me to think about how a sense of Jewish exceptionalism — the idea that we adhere to a higher standard of behavior — has shaped our conduct. I wonder whether having a sense of Jewish exceptionalism has led us to being haughty and/or holding ourselves out to an impossibly high standard of behavior, or if we need this sense of exceptionalism in order to hold ourselves to that high standard of behavior.

I frame the issue in regard to a defense of Israel’s conduct in the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict this past May. In defending Israel’s actions and policies, were we too focused on external criticism, thereby ignoring our obligation for Heshbon HaNefesh — an accounting of our souls — or, more to the point, engaging in the important work of self-reflection and self-improvement.  

I present these thoughts not so much with a definitive answer but rather as a point for discussion and maybe a challenge for all of us. Are we so concerned about how others critique us that we cheat ourselves of the opportunity to do better.

Tue, May 24 2022 23 Iyyar 5782