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In the Big City or the Burbs - A Nation That Dwells Alone

Thursday, 18 July, 2019 - 10:00 pm

 Balak Email - 5779

Where do you think it’s easier to be Jewishly observant -  New York or California?

 If you answered New York you could be forgiven. One borough can contain more Jews, more kosher restaurants, more synagogues, more schools and study halls and religious-social opportunities than most states in the union. With such a supportive environment, what could be easier than living, eating, praying, and celebrating as the Torah teaches?

 But, as I discovered in an enlightening talk I had with a young man this week, somehow the plethora of Jewish opportunity can also come with a downside: in the busy city there is often also a profuse availability and accessibility of debasement and debauchery that is less apparent in the suburbs. In the city a  young man could easily be brought down the wrong path and meet other challenges to honing a refined and caring character.

 While there are many elements one should consider when choosing a place to live and raise a family-–social environment and religious conveniences should certainly be one of them, especially once one is more settled and less prone to allurement, along with realistic self-awareness and an honest appraisal of the pros and cons in each location—the discussion highlighted an important message reinforced in our Parsha:

 A successful Jew (or, really, any moral human) is a fortified one, strong and ready to live by his or her principles as guided by Hashem regardless of situation or circumstance. There is no location in the world that will free someone of challenge and inner temptation—those generally come at birth and leave in the hearse.

 “A nation that dwells alone,” observed Bil’am, the wicked prophet-sorcerer in our parshah.

 "Dwelling alone" means character--to be ready to refrain when the food’s not kosher, ready to make effort to stand by an unpopular friend, ready to give up leisure time to pray, or set solid times for study, or to pay for children’s Jewish education, or take off work on Jewish holidays, or to be kind and compassionate, or to avoid situations that invite vice and weakness, or to give of hard-earned wages  to tzedakah, and the list goes on and on.

 Dwelling alone means doing the right thing even when no one else around is doing it and when your  inner cynical voice offers its own hearty disdain.

Dwelling alone, but not aloof, since to the contrary—the aloneness itself demands positive engagement, sensitivity and compassion for others, that in the long run should only garner respect and imitation.

 Bil’am’s observation is actually not described in the Torah as an observation.

 G-d calls it a blessing.

 Let’s embrace the blessing.

 Let’s own that definition of aloneness, not the one desired and promoted by haters and persecutors.

And ultimately, it will be a blessing for all nations of the earth as well, with the coming of Moshiach speedily.


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