At CJP’s annual From Strength to Strength event this past Wednesday, I reflected on some of the powerful stories and moments that have shaped our community — and me — over the past year. I spoke about the resilience that has enabled our community to thrive and enabled the Jewish People to endure for 3,000 years.
We celebrated the staff, volunteers, donors, leaders, and partners who are the lifeblood of this community and whose passion and energy propel us forward even during difficult times. In my remarks, I emphasized one of the themes repeated throughout the night — the idea of a dual sense of mission and purpose. For so many in our community, being proud to be Jewish means both loving the Jewish People and feeling a deep sense of responsibility for our broader world.
This reminds me of the opening of this week’s Torah portion, from Genesis, when Abraham hears and accepts God’s calling of “lech lecha (go forth).”
This calling came with a twofold promise and obligation. “I will make you great nation... and all the families of the earth will be blessed by (or through) you.” From the very outset, Abraham’s mission is a particular one: to build and sustain a family and a nation, the distinct collective that will become the Jewish People. At the same time, it is also a broader, more universal mission: to positively impact humanity and the world.
One of the challenges we sometimes struggle with is the belief that these two missions are mutually exclusive. It feels, at times, like we must choose between Judaism and humanism, between taking care of ourselves and giving back to others. The simplicity and clarity of this binary thinking can motivate people to passionately commit to one side or the other. However, it is also limiting and potentially damaging. It can foster an “us vs. them” mindset and a scarcity mentality. It limits our ability to navigate a complex and nuanced world, or to build empathic, interdependent, mutually beneficial relationships with others, especially when their interests seem at odds with ours.
God’s message to Abraham is that the choice between your People and the rest of humanity is a false dichotomy. A confident, compassionate Jewish community clarifies priorities and makes hard choices while embracing and striving to live out multiple truths, competing values, and the timeless, both/and mission of the Jewish People.
Rabbi Marc Baker
About the Author
CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.