All Jews Equal

I often get the feeling that Jewish groups are judgmental of one another, as if to say that one type of Jew is better than another. This causes division and dissension. How can we prevent this from snowballing any further?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud says that our long exile was caused due to dissention amongst our people. So your question is extremely relevant to the Jewish national situation today.

Judaism says that no person is inherently better or worse than another. The Book of Numbers begins with a census of the Jewish people. Far from reducing everyone to a number, this census teaches us that every Jew is important. The kabbalists point out that just as 600,000 Jewish souls stood at Mount Sinai, so too there are 600,000 letters in the Torah (including the white spaces between letters). Just as a Torah Scroll is invalid if even a single letter is missing, so too the Jewish people are handicapped if even one Jew is missing. Each and every Jew is completely integral – regardless of occupation or skill.

According to the Torah, can we know who is a "good Jew"? If a terrorist would order the greatest rabbi to kill a thief or else be killed, the rabbi is forbidden to murder, even in order to save his life. Why? Because, the Talmud says: "Nobody knows whose blood is redder." No one can judge the worth of another person because no one knows where another person is situated on the ladder of life – where he began and how many rungs he has climbed. Perhaps the thief, given his life's circumstances, is making greater, more difficult life choices than even the finest rabbi.

The story is told of the great Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (20th century Jerusalem), who asked his congregation to delay beginning the evening prayers until the street sweeper arrived. Said Rabbi Auerbach: "This man is devoted and committed to his work, and takes pride in the contribution he makes to Jewish life. I wish that I would have such pure intentions in my own work!"

If one person is born with physical strength and becomes a brick-layer, while another is born with a sharp mind and becomes a brain surgeon, each makes his own important contribution to society. Neither should feel any more or less valuable than the other. It is arrogant for someone to think that being born with more talent somehow makes them better. The Talmud says that the only thing we earn is our good name and character. Everything else is a gift. In the words of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, true self-esteem comes from focusing on your spiritual growth, not on superficial signs of status. Because no one person's "package" is inherently better than another.

Rabbi Rafael of Barshad (19th century Europe), summed it up as follows: "When I get to Heaven, they'll ask me, why didn't you learn more Torah? And I'll tell them that I'm slow-witted. Then they'll ask me, why didn't you do more kindness for others? And I'll tell them that I'm physically weak. Then they'll ask me, why didn't you give more Tzedakah? And I'll tell them that I didn't have enough money. But then they'll ask me: If you were so stupid, weak and poor, why were you so arrogant? And for that I won't have an answer."

The best policy is for all of us to stop judging each other and respect each other instead.

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