Noach was a tzaddik. Tamim hayah—he was complete, perfect. His family alone merited to survive the Great Flood that destroyed his generation. Life as we know it was reborn and recreated through Noach, the great patriarch of humanity. But Noach’s legacy is not that of a patriarch. That title belongs to Avraham, his son Yitzchak and his grandson Yaakov. Noach deserves our respect and our gratitude, but when it comes to emulating a role model, we follow the example of Avraham.
Noach was a great man and did not succumb to the depravity of his generation. But Noach was unable to make an impression on anyone else. He spent over a century building the ark, but he couldn’t save even one person by convincing him that there was value in living a Godly life. His goodness redeemed those closest to him, but it ended with those closest to him as well. If only he had not been so tragically irrelevant to his generation.
Fast-forward ten generations to Avraham. He also lived in a generation that had lost its way. Idolatry was rampant; God was forgotten. Nevertheless, Avraham engaged in a philosophical journey that led him to the One Omnipotent Creator. Unlike Noach, Avraham could not keep this realization to himself. He felt compelled to enlighten members of his generation and improve the quality and value of their lives by sharing this overwhelming truth with them. Avraham, together with his partner Sarah, reached out to others. They showered people with love and kindness, took them under their wings, and set an example of how fulfilling and meaningful a Godly life can be. Noach had no message for his generation. Avraham’s message transformed mankind forever.
Like Noach and Avraham, we too live in a generation that has lost its way. Assimilation and intermarriage are destroying our people like a silent Holocaust. Here in the United States, of Jews ages forty and under, the largest bloc is unaffiliated. They have no connection at all to Jewish life or Jewish education. The question facing all of us is, How will we respond to these staggering losses? Will we ignore them because what we see is our own small piece of the picture that includes Jewish schools, shuls, mikvaot, kosher restaurants, active federations, i.e., a thriving Jewish community? Will we follow the example of Noach, who maintained a level of righteousness for himself and his family, but could not or would not reach out and share the beauty of his way of life with people who were far removed from what he stood for? Or will we follow the example of Avraham, whose conviction was so rock-solid that his mission in life was to reach out to pagan, backward idolaters and enlighten them to find a better way and worship a true God?
The question is purely rhetorical because history has already shown which way is successful—we need to be Avrahams. We need to be ambassadors of the positive and healthy life we call Orthodox Judaism. And we need to sign on now with the Avrahams of our generation who are valiantly working to stem the tide of assimilation but are facing numbers so overwhelming that without our support and efforts, a significant majority of the Jewish people will simply cease to be.
Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is the quintessential Avraham of our generation. He serves as the chief rabbi to all of Great Britain, not just its Jewish population, and his wisdom has spread worldwide. His messages are firmly rooted in Torah, but convey universal principles that inspire people from all walks of life. Countless people hear his lectures, read his books and download his divrei Torah.
We need to sign on now with the Avrahams of our generation who are valiantly working to stem the tide of assimilation but are facing numbers so overwhelming that without our efforts, a significant majority of the Jewish people will simply cease to be.
Rabbi Sacks’ effectiveness is a result of his eloquent articulation of the universal truths of Judaism; he explains how living a Godly life with morals and values makes us better people and makes the world a better place.
There is only one Chief Rabbi Sacks. But that does not mean we cannot do on a smaller scale what he does for the masses. We too can share the universal messages of Judaism with our unaffiliated brothers and sisters. Our role is not to preach or lecture others with a “we-know-better” attitude. Our role is to engage others simply by caring about them, showing kindness and illustrating how rich a life of Torah and mitzvot is.
Our own Rabbi Steven Burg, international director of NCSY, makes a point of housing kids in the homes of community members, rather than booking hotel rooms, when running an NCSY Shabbaton. The impact of a warm loving Shabbat environment on an unaffiliated teen is immeasurable. Dena Levie, my fellow member at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Jordana Baruchov, a teacher at New Jersey’s Yavneh Academy, go to the mall every week with Yavneh Academy students to give out challah to the young secular Israelis working at the kiosks.
We sit down to a beautiful meal every Shabbat. How hard would it be to include someone who has never experienced the confluence of such gastronomical and spiritual delights? How memorable would that be for them? When giving out mishloach manot, let’s not only distribute to friends who have more than enough hamantashen. Give some to a non-observant coworker or neighbor. Even better, invite them to the seudah. They will likely be touched by your efforts to include them in the joy and festivities.
Give Judaica or interesting Jewish books as a gift to someone who does not have many Jewish items in his home. It will be unique, and perhaps even treasured.
We can devote some of our time and efforts to studying the Seforno, or the Sefer HaChinuch, two scholars whose emphasis is on addressing all aspects of life—the universal truths of Judaism. Study the works of great Torah thinkers, and share relevant lessons with others. Most people like to have something interesting and challenging to think about. They will welcome and appreciate a new perspective.
These are just a few examples of the many ways we can engage others and make a positive impact on their relationship with Judaism. Aish HaTorah initiated Project Inspire, and its web site is brimming with ideas and advice on just that—how to inspire. It is worth checking out and even more worthwhile putting into practice.
The Hebrew word v’natnu is a palindrome, spelled the same way forwards and backwards. When we give to others, it is a two-way street and goodness comes right back to us. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by sharing what we know to be beautiful and important. We cannot rest on the laurels of the wonderful communities we have built for ourselves. By shutting ourselves in, we ignore the masses of Jews who know nothing about the richness of their heritage. Our role has to be one of giving, caring, engaging, teaching and inspiring. It is the only way we can stop the ignorance that is stealthily persecuting and destroying our people. With God’s help, we can all be Avrahams—connecting with others and enlightening a generation.