President’s March 2021 Column

Our Story – Your Story

Did our story choose us? As you live your lifedo you believe you are the author of your life’s adventure? This is not as much as an existential question as a method to frame one’s existence. In our adult education series, “Together & Apart,” offered by the Hartman Institute, we have learned about a concept Rabbi Hartman introduced: two forms of Jewish being and identity — one of “particularism” juxtaposition with “universalism”.

In one form we may see ourselves chosen by G-d as something special and unique. In other references within the Torah, we are to understand that all humans are created equal in the image of the divine. If special, is it for the message of the oneness of God we are to deliver to the world? Or are we special due to the values we live out within our own lives as examples of the divine? For instance, the concept to be kind to the stranger is mentioned no less than 36 times in our holy scroll.

If we are to be a special gift to the world – does it also allow us to not take it to mean that we are better just because we are Jews? The concept of two seemingly diametric positions having to cohabitate man’s identity is common within our religion. There is less of an authority within the meaning of our holy words and more of a choice of options to weave a good life. Our own decisions are rarely so black & white and likened to our religion which invites one to ponder fluidity rather than become fixed in dogma.

How do these concepts inform us today in our modern world? Let me propose that if we think of such personal questions as dealing with us as peoplehood, it may never become realized. If we instead take religious and philosophical questions and challenges into our own life it may become authentic. If you think we, as Jews, are a blend of both being special and universal with all humans how can it inform us and our families?

How can we welcome the stranger? How can you become better at Tikkun Olam? How can I model good values and its direct behavior to my children? In short, are we the characters within an ancient story or are we the active participant in deciding and acting out best intentions? We are the stories we tell ourselves when we are authentic to the special person created within.

Robert Becker