Parshas Re-eh (5773)
This week I took my family on an RV trip where we stayed overnight at some amazingly beautiful campsites and provincial parks near the shores of Lake Ontario about 2 ˝ hours east of Toronto.
One night after a delicious barbeque dinner, we made a big fire in the fire pit next to the RV and we all sat around the fire roasting marshmallows and singing campfire songs. After we were done we headed back into the RV for the night, and I asked my older daughters to make sure to douse the fire before going to sleep.
Three hours later, my daughter woke me up and told me that the fire was never fully extinguished and that I need to go outside and put it out. I quickly got dressed and grabbed some bottled water and went outside and, sure enough, the fire was raging high and mighty! I poured all the water in the bottle over the fire and a huge plume of smoke rose up into in the air. Satisfied that the fire was totally out, I headed back into the RV and went back to sleep.
Around two hours after that, I got woken up again, this time by my wife. She pointed toward the window of the RV where I saw a reflection of what looked like a huge fire just outside the camper. I quickly threw on some clothing and ran outside with some baking soda, this time putting out the fire for good. I then went back to my bed for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.
As a rabbi who is always looking for good, new material for sermons and classes, this stubborn fire that just wouldn’t go out – no matter how hard we tried – got me thinking about the amazing history of the Jewish people.
You see, throughout the centuries and millennia, so many nations have attempted to extinguish the brightly burning fire and illuminating light that is the Jewish people, but, try as they might, they were unsuccessful, and the eternal Jewish flame burns on.
Think about it …. just seventy years ago, six million Jews - a 1/3 of our people - were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Yet even those evil beasts couldn’t douse the persistent Jewish spark, and soon after the war’s end, we picked ourselves up from the ashes and rebuilt the Jewish people with a flame that is now burning stronger and brighter than ever! Amazing!
The truth is that this analogy of Jews and fire goes much deeper, as it holds within it the secret of Jewish continuity.
The Mahara”l in Netzach Yisrael Chapter 25) quotes from the Midrash that teaches that the Jewish people are compared to fire while the nations of the world are compared to water.
The Mahara”l explains that if water gets too close to fire, then the water will douse the fire. Only if there is a barrier or distance between the fire and water can the fire stay aflame and even impact upon the water by heating it up and/or evaporating it.
So, too, is the case with the Jewish people and our interaction with the nations of the world. The spiritual reality is – and history has shown this to be true - that if we let ourselves get too close to the nations around us by attempting to intermarry with them and totally assimilating ourselves into their world, then they will eventually douse our Jewish flame and we will not be able to stay aflame and survive.
Only if we create a barrier and some distance between us and them will we be able to keep our fire burning and even influence them for the good.
As the prophet Isaiah tells us, our job as Jews is to be a “light unto the nations” and to “heat up” the entire world with a passion and an excitement for G-d and spirituality. Yet this can only be accomplished if we retain our unique Jewish identity even as we live side-by-side with our non-Jewish neighbors. Otherwise, we run the risk of having our Jewish flame extinguished, G-d forbid.
We, the Jewish people, are the little fire that just won’t go out, for we know the secret of Jewish continuity which keeps our Jewish flame burning forever.