2011-07-15 / Columnists

Point of View

THE CHAIN
“The Rabbi’s Personal Column”
Rabbi Allan Blaine Temple Beth-El, Rockaway Park

It was the 15th century, the dark days of the Spanish inquisition of the Jews. Every tenth person in Spain was Jewish and many had lived in the Iberian Peninsula since the eighth century more than six hundred years and held the highest positions in government.

The story is told of one of these individuals whose name was Don Miguel, the King’s Advisor, who was sentenced to death for practicing Judaism. As he was tied to the stake and the wood beneath his feet kindled, the King, his friend, whispered, “Don Miguel save yourself. I will drop my cross, pick it up – the inquisitors will think you are bowing to the cross. You will be saved.” “I cannot” said Don Miquel. “Why?” “Because of the chain.” “What chain?” said the King. He looked around and saw that his trusted friend and advisor was not bound by any chains. “You are not bound in a chain.” “The chain,” said Don Miguel, “the chain of Jewish history, traditions and way of life from Moses to this day.”

He was referring to the chain that links us to our ancestors, our history, our moment at Sinai which is slowly but discernibly eroding and disappearing. All our cherished values are not only changing with times, but fast disappearing. I do not believe that we should live in the past or interpret Jewish Law for or by societal standards of 500 years ago. Change and growth are vital. Andre Gide, the novelist, once said “we cannot discover new continents unless we lose sight of the shore.” Yet there must be limits!

Yitzchak Rabin once spoke in Jerusalem reacting to unfair criticism of Israel. In his remarks, he said that the world holds Israel to a special standard, a standard by which other people are not judged. Mr. Rabin said he accepts this “double standard” and it should be operative as far as he was concerned. We should judge ourselves by the highest standards possible. My teacher, Prof. Louis Finkelstein once asked rhetorically, “would you rather have your son as a prisoner of a concentration camp or as the S.S. Guard sadistically overseeing and killing the camp prisoners?”

We should operate with a higher standard of morality, and we should take morality seriously. We should place ourselves on a higher plane, but said, Rabin, there is a limit! Or in his own Hebrew words, “Yesh Gvul.” The unfair made-up accusations against Israel, the defamation by world wide media organizations, the fiction of a flotilla to aide starving Gazans and on and on – Yesh Gvul – there is a limit.

We can say the same thing as we look at our society and inwardly at ourselves. There has to be a limit to the extremes and excesses, the moral delinquency; - the lack of self discipline, the profaning and sullying and desecrating of all that we at one time held sacred; family, morality; honesty, integrity, faith, hope, holiness, peoplehood, religion, responsibility patriotism and nationhood..

As I look around, listen to the radio, watch the news on T.V., read what is going on in our society I think to myself Yesh Gvul there is a limit, we must stop bowing to the false idol that, “whatever makes you happy is right and good no matter its effect on another.” In the end that will give us not everything, but nothing. We need values that are rooted in a decent way of life, that are not vague and amorphic.

I must say as a parent and grandparent that I am not happy with the quality of life surrounding us. We seem to be rushing headlong into a morally depraved way of life and this despite the God given miracles of technology, science and medicine in our century.

Don Miguel gave his life for his faith, for his way of life and for the eternal chain that linked him to his people. For centuries Jewish people despite suffering, torture, torment and persecution in the ghettoes of Europe and in the Nazi death camps steadfastly maintained their Jewish identity. Today it takes little or nothing of personal consequences to give up everything which we have been born into and which have been part of our lives and that of our people and our ancestors. It’s time to give thought to the chain which links us to God and to everything good and noble in God’s world.

This monthly column continues with thanks to an anonymous donor.

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