One of the challenges of modern society is that the world has become polarized, and we often tend to reach out only to those who are similar to us. There is much outreach taking place on a local level, but at the same time there is room for improvement. At the school level we should always try to think of ways to bring others under our wing. Rabbi Berel Wein addresses this topic in the following devar Torah on Parshas Ki Sisa:
The Torah in this week’s parshah discusses the composition of the rare and fragrant incense that was offered daily on the golden altar in the Mishkan and later in the Temple. The exact formulation of the incense is not given — i.e., the amount of each of the ingredients relative to the entire amount of incense produced — but some of the thirteen different spices and herbs described later in the Talmud as being the components of the Temple incense are mentioned in the parshah.
Among the ingredients mentioned is chelbanah — usually translated in English as galbanum. This spice did not emit a pleasant odor. This may have been true when it was used alone, but apparently, when combined with the other pleasant-smelling spices, the total effect was intoxicatingly wonderful and very pleasant aromatically. The Talmud saw in this use of chelbanah in the incense formulation a moral and social lesson for all of Israel and for all time.
The Talmud teaches us that any public fast day that does not include “the sinners of Israel” in its program of prayer and fasting is deficient in its role. Rashi in this parshah emphasizes that point. Rashi states that they are not to be treated “lightly” and that they are to be included and “counted with us.”
The Talmud certainly indicates with this statement that we are to be inclusive of Jews who are sinners, who do not act as we wish them to behave and with whom we are therefore loath to associate. This attitude of exclusion is unfortunately the usual pattern of behavior in our religious world, where the tendency to greater and greater exclusivity among Jews has become the accepted rule of our different societies.
Nevertheless, there has been great progress in attempting to reach out to the “sinners of Israel” and to expose them to our religious and national agenda. I speak not only of the continuing accomplishments of the institutions that have headed Jewish outreach for the past number of decades, but of new initiatives to help unite the Jewish people and restore the traditions of Judaism to Jews who, through no immediate fault of their own, are estranged or ignorant of their rich heritage.
Megillas Esther was read for the first time in several kibbutzim this Purim. Jewish education lectures are being given in places where previously Judaism was not allowed to conflict with the dogmas and religion of Marxism. Changing someone else’s lifestyle in midstream is difficult to accomplish. But bringing people who evidently wish to be part of the Jewish people to prayer, to observe fast days, and to celebrate feast days without preconditions and maximum demands, and having patience and true concern while doing this, is possible and very necessary.
A united Jewish people, with all the internal differences that will always remain within our society, is seen to be equal to the great formulation of the incense in the Temple. That formulation produced a marvelous fragrance and engendered joy. Our attempts to unite the Jewish people are also guaranteed to produce great joy and positive purpose for all of Israel.
On a personal level, my wife Tzippy and I have had the zechus to be involved with many baalei teshuvah over the years. Our lives have been greatly enhanced through these relationships. When we open the doors of our homes and school and reach out to those who may not have the same exposure as us, we grow in the process. Initially, we may be hesitant and concerned about the spiritual impact of inviting and befriending children who may not have the same values as us. I have found, however, that these relationships are often like the chelbanah, creating a very special aroma and adding a spice to our lives that ultimately enhances our families and, of course, the lives of so many others. Let us all join in, both at home and in school, in welcoming all as the Torah says, “Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morashah kehilas Yaakov — The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov.” The Torah was given as an inheritance to all Jews, not just to the limited few.
We look forward to the continued growth of our school and to welcoming our newfound extended family into our lives.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman