Sunday, October 28, 2007

Jewish Student Activism - Part 1

This is the first of a 5 part series I am starting on Jewish Student Activism. Feel free to share it on facebook, on your blogs, or by email. Send all comments to (or if you are on, comment on the posts). I will be publishing some comments which are relevant to the discussion.

Originally Posted on

It's in Our Hands

For thousands of years, Jews have positively influenced the world in all areas of life: sciences, philosophy, art, morality etc… It is well known that the mission of the Jewish People is to be “a light unto the nations”. However, what is our way to shine our light? What is the Jewish Way to influence the world?

There has been much discussion in the world as to what constitutes the base of Jewish Thought. Some people consider Judaism to be a religion. Others consider Judaism to be a Nationalistic Message of belonging to the Jewish Nation. Finally, others also considered Judaism to be a Universal Message of Morality. In the eyes of Rav Kook, all of these 3 values are included in the Jewish Message. We have a message of Godliness, which is to be brought out by our nation, and this message is for the universal good.

If this is so, how exactly should these seemingly contradicting messages interact? The Religious aspect seems to concentrate on the individual, the nationalist aspect concentrates on the nation while the universal message is to the whole world! The answer lies in the blessings God gave to Abraham in Parashat Lech Lecha. After telling Abraham to go to the land of Israel, God tells him: “I will make you into a great nation”. Clearly, from this we see that Judaism is first and foremost a Nation, not a religion. Rav Kook teaches that the particularity of the Jewish Nation is that we look at the world with Godly Lenses (Introduction to Shabbat Haaretz). In other words, we are first and foremost a nation. Every Nation has something special: Americans are particularly found of Freedom, Arabs are particularly passionate, the Jewish Nation’s particularity is its message of Godliness which it brings to the world.

We now understand the place of the Nationalist and Religious messages of torah, but what about our universal messages?

In the next passouk, God continues blessing Avraham and says: “all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.” The Goal of our Jewish Nationalism is to bring our a light which all the nations will be able to gain from.

In order to simplify these complicated concepts, let us define 3 words: Prat, Tsibbour and Klal.

The Prat can be translated as the Individual.

The Tsibbour can be translated as a group of individuals. When many individuals come together, they create a Tsibbour.

Then, there is another concept called Klal. The Klal is more then just a group of individuals. It has an overarching theme. It’s a concept which englobes all individuals into one unit giving out one message. Klal Israel’s message is Godliness.

The Goal of Am Israel is to take the Tsibbour of individual Jews and to turn it into a Klal.

One of my friends gave me an amazing metaphor once.

It is like a nice painting. When you look at a painting, there is an image which comes out. This image is the klal. Each brush stroke is a prat, an individual. All the brush strokes together on the canvas is called the tsibbour. If each brush stroke gives out the right color in the right place, then the right image will come out: The tsibbour will be a klal. If any individual does something wrong, it will hurt the representation given by tsibbour on the canvas but the image (conceptually) will still be pure, the image is always pure. It will just not be well represented on this canvas.

This image which needs to be brought out is a universal message of morality based on Godliness. This is how we improve the world. Each individual joining into the message of Godliness in the Klal in order to bring it out to the world.

This is an extremely meaningful teaching. There are a few conclusions which come out from this which I want to outline.

First of all, even when we do individual actions such as wearing tfillin or lighting candles for Shabbat, we do it for the whole nation. We do it for the painting to come out right! Not only do we do it for the whole nation, we do it for the whole world!

Second of all, we can see that the religious level of Judaism only makes sense when you look at it from a national point of view. Therefore, how can we close ourselves up and work on personal growth when other Jews need us?

Third of all, we need to realize the incredible level of responsibility this creates. If we do not shine our light the right way, the whole world looses. It’s all in our hands! We are the ones, each, individually, who decide if the picture will come out accurately or not! It is our responsibility to “save the world”! No one else can shine the color we need to shine. No one else can take the position on the canvas which we need to take. It is all up to us. Are we going to stand up and do our job, or will we just stay passive and stop the full picture from coming out?

As a law student in a few classes on international law, I learn a lot about all the different crises in the world. I also learn that the main reason why these are not resolved is because people do not care to do something about them: Why should America go into another country to stop a genocide? Why sacrifice our own for them? Why should I care?

Judaism gives you the answer: You have to do your role because no on else can, and because the whole world is dependant on you doing it. Now, I’m not at all saying that what we should do is encourage our government to do so and so. No, as we saw, even wearing Tfillin with the right intention or lighting candles with the right intention becomes a nationalist message.

Sepharadim and Hassidim have the tradition of saying Leshem Yichoud before each mitzvah. In that prayer, we remind ourselves of the kavanah we need: We say we come in order to unite the name of God in this world (universal message) in the name of all of Israel (national message). Each individual action contains all of these aspects.

May all our actions, the individual, national and universal ones, contribute to the shining of God’s light into this world.


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