Appreciating different groups of Jews.
Ever since our inception, Hashem has kept the Jewish people divided-yet-united into very different Tribes.
Rav Miller insists that having a wide (halachically legitimate) variety of different Jews makes life more fun.
And it does!
Some Nice Stories
The modern-day coming together of different groups and their customs always makes me feel like we truly are different links (or pearls!) within the same necklace.
If one is missing, the whole strand falls apart.
And I’m far from being the only one who feels this way.
Many, many frum Jews enjoy an opportunity to connect with other frum Jews from different ethnicities and nationalities.
In fact, I have a Yerushalmi chassidish neighbor who loves hanging out with Sephardi neighbors and lately, she’s also been inviting Russian baalei teshuvah couples for meals. She’s very makpid with her own children that they should never denigrate another group. I can tell that it’s all fun for her (and because I’m Sefardi by marriage and American by birth, I end up being part of her fun too).
After she came back from a trip to different holy graves of Rebbes in Eastern Europe, she enthused about how a Breslov woman on the bus inspired her with a steady stream of Breslov thought throughout the ride to Uman. “I said Tikkun Haklali at the grave of Rebbe Nachman!” she bubbled. “And I saw orot (lights/spiritual illumination)—yes, really!”
And she is part of a chassidus reputed to oppose Breslov (although Rav Levi Yitchak Bender insisted that this wasn’t true, as stated by the Rebbe of that chassidus himself).
My son, who learns in a standard Sefardi charedi yeshivah, spent Shabbat in Kiryat Arba-Chevron and enjoyed every minute of the warm, vibrant Judaism of his Kahanist hosts. Everyone was really nice to him and no one agonized over why he was in yeshivah as opposed to the army (a scenario that sometimes occurs outside the charedi community). He experienced a lot of warmth, acceptance, and good old-fashioned ahavat Yisrael combined with tremendous ahavat Torah—the divrei Torah never stopped flowing.
He doesn’t want to join that community; he’s happy where he is. But he received tremendous enjoyment and inspiration from frum Jews who are living a very different life.
A Litvish charedi kollel guy from America spent his first month of Shabbosim in Eretz Yisrael davening in a different shul for each tefillah. He experienced different kinds of chassidus and different kinds of Sefardi, and he thoroughly enjoyed himself. If you saw him, you’d think he is a very quiet serious-but-nice conventional Litvak. And he is! But that doesn’t contradict his healthy appreciation for other frum groups.
But other than providing us with lots of fun, there are other reasons why Hashem insists on the “Divided-Yet-United” paradigm…
Serving in Hashem's Army
For example, some frum communities are very into insulating themselves against non-Jewish society and building a kind of self-imposed to ghetto around themselves. Other frum communities march out into the world, spreading Torah to the darkest corners and lovingly gathering in as many lost souls as they can.
You might personally find one much more appealing than the other. But in reality, both are vitally necessary. Both are in service of Hashem.
Rav Miller gives some practical examples:
So when a person from Dan was passing by and a boy from Yehudah saw him, he might have a yetzer hara to ridicule and say, “Tatty, look at that man. Look at his funny clothing.”
So his father scolded his son, “Oh no, don’t laugh at him. He’s our brother from the holy Tribe of Dan. Have respect. Every Tribe is holy.”
And when a boy of Shevet Reuven said, “Look, Abba! Isn’t that strange how this person from Ephraim is speaking a queer language—he can’t pronounce the words,” so his father said, “Shh, we don’t talk that way. Shevet Efraim is holy. It’s a very holy Tribe. They’re our people, our brothers.”
The Jews are in Hashem’s Army.
As Rav Miller explains:
Among ourselves, we have to be the best of friends. Because no matter where you are—you could be a Jew in Australia, a Satmerer in Williamsburg or a Jew in Tel Aviv—we’re all in this world for one purpose: to serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
When we feel that we’re all fighting together for one cause, to serve Hashem, we’re all marching together in the same regiment, so it’s much easier to have a love for your fellow men.
How much of an affection are you supposed to feel for brothers who are of one mind with you!
Learning from Everyone
Each halachically legitimate group emphasizes another important aspect of Torah. If you bury your head in the sand of your own group all your life, you might miss out on some very important aspect of avodat Hashem.
One group davens late because they spend so much time arousing their hearts toward passionate tefillah. Other group davens right a sunrise to catch that special time and start their day off right and exemplify zerizut for a mitzvah.
We need to learn from both of them.
Practical Tips to Get Started
- Practically speaking, Rav Miller advises that when you walk into a frum shul, you should say, “This is my nation, my brothers! And we all share the common purpose of serving Hashem.”
- When you’re walking down a street with many frum inhabitants, you should be thinking, “I’m walking among my people. B’toch ami anochi yoshevet. It’s my people and I love them. I don’t care what hat he wears or what group he belongs to—it’s all my people!”
- And in a crowded kosher supermarket? Here’s what Rav Miller recommends:
…and it’s crowded and the lines are long—these are precious moments! You’re looking down the aisles and all you can see are your “brothers and sisters.”
Women, men, children—all buying kosher food. That’s a nation dedicated with a singular heart to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. "Yisrael ein lahem eleh lev echad l’Avihem sheh baShamayim—The whole Am Yisrael has but one heart devoted to their Father in Heaven" (Sukkah 45b).
It’s not just poetry; that’s actually the greatness of the Am Yisrael that binds us as brothers.
What a beautiful—and true!—way of looking at Jewish children.
Which Path is Right for YOU?
How do you know which group, which hashkafah, which type of avodah is best for you?
Rav Miller says:
Hashem wants you to be the best that you can be.
Some people can be their best if they're chassidish.
Some people can be their best if they're litvish.
Other people can be their best if they're sefardi.
It's like asking: "What is the best diet for all of mankind?" The best type of diet depends on each individual person. People are different.
Some people are so different that their diets are radically different.
So whatever it is that you choose, you should make it a principle in your life to always choose whatever it is that will give you the most success in life--and success in this world means preparing for the Next World.
They checked his lineage and discovered that, indeed, he was from the Tribe of Dan, a Tribe which always wants to follow the strict letter of the law.
Another man used to go around saying, “I love the sea, I rejoice in seeing it.”
And what did they discover?
He descended from Zevulun! Zevulun was a seafaring Tribe.
“They were sailors with boats and they loved the sea.”
In a Nutshell:
As Rav Miller explains, the directive is found in Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 9:4:
"Mi asher yechaber el kol hachaim, yesh bitachon—whoever is still connected to all the living, then there's still hope."
What does this mean, "all the living"?
All the different types of frum Jews who are really living a Torah life (or at least trying to)!
If you do that, then there's definitely hope.
(All quotes used with permission.)