Every new situation creates challenges and opportunities. Exchanging a family’s routine of work, school and set schedules for leisure, unstructured time and trips to places of entertainment and adventure, sets the stage for new opportunities in personal growth, and in showcasing to outsiders, lessons imbibed and midos improved, as a result of months (and years) of those productive routines.
With the much anticipated mid-winter vacation upon us, and trips to near and far in the offing, I would suggest packing one additional item in the suitcase. We will be visible in public this week, as individuals, families and in groups. In light of the increased public animosity towards Jews displayed predominantly in Europe, but just below the surface everywhere else, the usual high profile that we frum Jews experience in public places is even more pronounced. In short, people are watching us more pointedly than in the past and will consciously or subconsciously concretize attitudes towards us based upon the behavior they observe in us. They are looking to see if visibly Jewish people live up to the expectations of adhering to a higher level of morality and mentschlichkeit.
In Parashas Shemos (1:7) the Torah tells us that “and the land was filled with them.” Jews were spreading out all over Egypt, and not restricting their residences and activities to the designated area of Goshen. The Netziv (HaRav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin) in Ha’amek Davar explains that because they were mingling with the Egyptians, which went against the teaching of their father Yaakov, the Jews began to imitate the lifestyle and behavior of their neighbors. This caused Hashem to turn the Egyptians’ initial admiration of Yaakov’s family into revulsion and hatred, resulting in many, many years of cruel, harsh oppression.
Yes, like it or not, we are held to a higher standard. Not because we’re better, smarter or more prestigious. It is because we, the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov have been charged with a mission to present in word, and more importantly, in deed, the teachings of Hashem. We are expected to be models of honesty, integrity, sensitivity to others and to act with dignity. We teach these lessons not by listening to speeches or having impressive collections of Mussar Seforim on our bookshelves – we teach it by our behavior, and especially when that behavior is on public display.
The teachable moments are many! When we’re in a group and excitedly catching up with friends and acquaintances, are we sensitive to others’ right to a quiet, calm atmosphere? Could we not be more aware of our surroundings and the needs of others? When waiting on a line for an activity or show, do we wait patiently and take our proper place in line, without appearing to be unfair to others? When asked our age, place of residence or other information that has implications for the fee we need to pay, do we answer honestly? After completing our home prepared meals which come in numerous wrappings and containers, are we careful that every piece of trash is placed in a proper disposal? If perhaps we are not quite at that level of conduct yet, keeping in mind that our children are watching our every move very closely, might help inspire us to stretch ourselves to where we know we really should be.
As we plan the details of our trips, we need to include in our baggage the awareness of the fact that by the time we return home we will either have made a Kiddush Hashem, or Chas V’Shalom, a Chillul Hashem. A little planning and forethought as to this aspect of our vacation will help us, and especially our children, to concretize the lessons they are taught by you and their teachers in Yeshiva on a daily basis. We will then be doing our part in advancing our mission in life and help restore the glory of Hashem and the Jewish People to the exalted status they deserve.
Best wishes for a relaxing Shabbos and a week of fun, enjoyment and Kiddush Hashem,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann