Back on Chanukah I wrote:
Chomos migdalei, the walls of my citadel [mentioned in the poem “Ma’oz Tzur“], were not the mighty walls around the Temple Mount or the walls of a fortress. They were a see-through mechitzah, the realization that the Jew, as one of the Mamleches Kohanim, has a higher calling.
One possible reaction to assimilation is to build up the fortress walls. We can hope to stave off negative influences by reducing out exposure to the outside world. The idea that we need to stay distinct is not necessarily one that isn’t heard, but perhaps one that we are overly stressing.
I think this too is a message of the soreg. Yes, there is a separation between Jew and non-Jew, but it is only waist high and woven of slats with far more space than wood. The “walls of my fortress” are a reminder, not a solid barrier.
We are charged to be G-d’s “mamlekhes kohanim vegoy qadosh — a country of priests and a holy nation.” We need to balance the separation implied by the concept of qedushah with our role as kohanim, a priesthood providing religious leadership. We can not be priests if we do not stay to our special calling, but our special calling is self-indulgent if we do not use it to serve others. “Ki miTzion teitzei Sorah — because from Zion the Torah shall come forth.” By wallling ourselves in we not only protect ourselves, we prevent ourselves from teaching others.
I recently realize this dovetails well with an idea I posted about back in 2005 (this is only one part of a number of arguments for the beauty of and need for a plurality of Orthodoxies):
We must learn to look at other forms of Torah observance as “different parts of the same body”. Not to be tolerated despite their differences, but loved because of them. All come from the same toras imekha [and thus Jewish identity is matrilineal], the same basic worldview, values and aspirations. We differ, as did the shevatim, in mussar avikha [which is why sheivet membership is patrilineal], in the formal layer of education after that, where we learn our roles and where we fit in that greater mission.
This was the message Hashem gave Aharon in the beginning of parashas Beha’alosekha. Chazal write that when the heads of the shevatim brought their qorbanos (listed at the end of Naso), Aharon, whose role included being the head of Levi, was pained at not being able to participate. Hashem comforted him by pointing to the story of Chanukah. The chanukas habayis, the consecration of the Beis haMiqdash, by Aharon’s descendants the Chashmona’im, was greater than the offerings of the nesi’im. Why?
Each of the nesi’im brought what was physically the same offering. However, each offering was distinct in intent. The Ramban itemizes the allusions each nasi could find in the same offering that relate to his particular tribe, to his particular ancestor. The offerings were colored by mussar avikha, by each sheivet’s particularist role.
Aharon is then told, “When you cause the menorah [flames] to go up, toward the face of the menorah its lamps should burn.” The menorah has one central trunk, from which emerge six branches. The flame atop each branch must point toward the middle. Each branch is a different wisdom, a different skill-set. They all emerge from the same basic Torah, from the mother-taught values that define our Jewishness. It is Aharon’s job to remind us that they also must be channeled back toward that central core.
We all work toward a common goal. Knowing that each of us are unique, bringing unique thoughts and abilities, unique perspective and educational background, leads us not only to realize the full value of our own part in the greater whole (no man is “just another brick in the wall”) but to treasure the contributions of others because they are so different than our own, and bringing something to the whole that we can’t.
It struck me this morning that there is a common theme in the two.
Just as the shevatim had different roles in the same central goal, the various nations each have a role in humanity’s goal. That list of roles will always include the job of reminding the whole that they are a single whole that is supposed to work together for a common noble end. Whether it’s Aharon and the Chashmonaim reminding the Jewish people, or the Jewish people having the (unpopular) job of being the world’s reminder. That is called kehunah.