Rabbi Simcha Snaid
What does it mean to be a Jewish person? I am sure we have many different answers and views to this question. (I would love to hear yours; please send them to email@example.com.)
For now, though, I would like to share my answer:
We have a creator – Hashem – who controls everything. Hashem orchestrates all events that happen in the world.
He has preserved the Jewish people for our entire existence when many nations tried to destroy us. We remain and they do not. This testifies to Hashem, the creator of the universe.
We walk humbly before Hashem. We act in a way that embodies the very essence of the Torah’s values. These values make up who we are, define our very essence and what we should strive to be.
What are these values?
A Jew means the compassion of Avraham, who reached out to every person, performing kindness to anyone who crossed his path.
A Jew means the self-sacrifice of Yitzchak, subordinating individual impulses, including the will to live, to the larger cause: the service of Hashem.
A Jew means the honesty of Yaakov, who served Lavan, a conniving thief and cheat, with the utmost honesty for decades.
A Jew means never giving up. Sarah and Rivkah, for instance, were barren for many years, yet they continued to beseech Hashem and devote their lives to Him.
A Jew means acting with the utmost sensitivity, like Rachel, who was ready to give up her entire future to avoid embarrassing her sister.
A Jew means constantly expressing gratitude. Leah named her son Yehuda, which means “thanks,” and our name, Yehudim – Jews – comes from his name. Gratitude is built into the very fiber of our being.
A Jew means being driven to save people, like Moshe, who readily risked his life on many occasions for the sake of the Jewish people.
A Jew means surviving a tragedy. Aharon, who lost his two sons, remained silent, accepting Hashem’s judgement without any questions, going on to build the Kohan dynasty that exists to this day.
A Jew means exhibiting the strength of Yosef, who overcame life’s most difficult challenges.
A Jew means facing cynicism and resisting peer pressure as King David did throughout his life.
These values – the Torah’s values – are how we should live our lives. We should lift ourselves and those around us by being the role models for the world to see and testify.
To quote a colleague, Rabbi Eli Davidowitz, “We all have many friends, neighbors, coworkers, vendors, retailers, servers, cashiers, etc., that we interact with all the time. We can choose to consistently model behaviors that shatter whatever evil stereotypes antisemites label us with. When my next-door neighbor hears Louis Farrakhan referring to Jews as termites or blood suckers, her reaction could be, ‘My neighbor is a proud Jew and is a kind, decent fellow.’ When my barber reads Joan Terrell Paige’s hateful rhetoric, he will remember the Jew he knows to be positive, courteous and one who leaves a generous tip. When I always have a kind word for my postal worker, she will have a hard time believing Florida pastor Rick Wiles, when he claims there is a Jew coup to overthrow our president. When Jews are accused of cheating in business, my vendor will remember that I always pay on time and go out of my way to be fair.”
This is what it means to be Jewish, serve Hashem and follow the Torah and its values.
If we walk away from recent events with an enhanced awareness, a new appreciation of what it means to be a Jew and the responsibility that comes with that, we could feel proud that we serve and answer to Hashem.
I live my life according to the Torah and its values. I am a role model that everyone can look up to.
(Rabbi Simcha Snaid is the spiritual leader of Congregation Anshei Sfard.)