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Parshas Vayeira (5778)

Kiruv: Why We Do It

By Rabbi David Zauderer of Toronto, Canada

kiruv [Hebrew קירוב ‎; pronounced kee-roov]
1. (lit.) “to bring close”
2. the act of “reaching out”; traditional Jewish outreach

To many secular or unaffiliated Jews, the idea of a religious Jew “reaching out” to them in the hope of helping them connect more to Torah study and mitzvah observance and to Judaism in general rubs them the wrong way. It smacks of religious coercion and is often perceived as a masked attempt at brainwashing.

[BTW, those who complain that Jewish outreach is religious coercion because it forces Judaism on Jews, are often the same people who spends hours annoying their children with flash cards for math and language skills. Why is it that anything we care about that we force our children to learn is called education, but anything we don’t really care about is called coercion?]

To that end, I would like to share with you what kiruv is really all about – who started it, what motivates one to do it, and why I believe that anyone who calls himself a Jew and loves being Jewish should be doing it.

The first Jew in history to engage in successful kiruv and outreach was also the first Jew in history – Avrohom Avinu, our forefather Abraham.

As Maimonides writes in his Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry 1:3, based on a verse in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Vayeira:

“Abraham was forty years old when he became aware of his Creator. When he recognized and knew Him, he began to formulate replies to the inhabitants of Ur Kasdim and debate with them, telling them that they were not following a proper path ….He began to teach the people that they should only serve the G-d of the Universe, and that to Him alone is it fitting to bow down …When he overcame them through the strength of his arguments, the king desired to kill him. He was saved through a miracle and left for Charan. There he began to call out in a loud voice to all people and inform them that there is One G-d over the entire world, and that only He should be worshipped. He would go out and call to the people, gathering them in city after city and country after country, until he came to the land of Canaan - proclaiming God's existence the entire time - as it was written (Genesis 21:33), "And he called out in the name of the Lord, the eternal G-d." When people gathered around him and asked him about his statements, he would explain to each one of them according to their understanding, until they turned to the path of truth. Ultimately, thousands and myriads gathered around him. These are the men of the house of Abraham. He planted this foundation in their hearts and wrote books about it …”

Now if we had to ask ourselves why Abraham chose to get involved in kiruv of the masses, the answer is quite simple.

In describing the biblical mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem (Loving G-d), Maimonides writes the following:

“Included in the commandment (to love G-d) is the responsibility that we bring all men to believe in G-d and serve Him. When you love another person, you speak of his good points and emphasize them, and you also try to bring others to love him. The same is true when you truly love G-d. When you have some idea of His true nature, you are certain to try to bring those who are unaware and ignorant to recognize this Truth. In the words of the Sifri: ‘You shall love the Lord your G-d – make all people love Him, just like Abraham your father did….’ Abraham truly loved G-d, as the scripture bears witness (Isaiah 41:8), ‘Abraham who loved Me.’ Because of Abraham’s deep understanding and great love of G-d, he also brought other people to believe in Him. In a similar manner, you should love G-d and bring other people to him.” (Sefer HaMitzvos Positive No. 3).

And Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes in his book Reaching Out (NCSY Publications): “When you like a person very much, then you also want others to like him. You want others to know his worth and see his good points. When you truly love a person, you want the whole world to know how wonderful that person is. Should it be any different when you love G-d?”

In other words, if we really, truly love G-d and Judaism - and we love our fellow Jews too - then we would want to share what we have with them. And we certainly wouldn’t be able to look away when our fellow Jews are indifferent to G-d and His teachings. Living a life filled with Torah and mitzvos is so incredibly beautiful and meaningful. Do our dear Jewish brothers and sisters even know what they are missing in their lives??

Of course – Rabbi Kaplan points out - there are “religious” Jews out there who are observant and keep G-d’s commandments not because they love Judaism but because they were brought up that way and do it out of sheer habit. Others do it because they are part of a religious society, and for them, being religious is merely a form of conformity.

Such individuals could not be expected to care whether or not other Jews keep the Torah or are aware of G-d’s commandments. After all, they are only religious themselves because of habit or conformity, so why should they be concerned about those who are not part of their society. But anyone else who sincerely loves Judaism will certainly care if their fellow Jews are missing out on all the fun.

As it turns out, the issue is not with kiruv itself. After all, reaching out to our fellow Jews and bringing them close to Torah and mitzvos is a natural next step for Jews who love G-d and his Torah.

The bigger issue is - why isn’t everyone doing it?! After all, if we truly love being Jewish and all that it entails, then shouldn’t we be shouting it from the rooftops and sharing it with everyone we know – just like our forefather Abraham?!

Something to think about …

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