Each Individual Counts
A Pesach sermon by Rabbi Benjamin H. Englander

This morning we read in the Torah the beautiful, exhilarating, and lofty description of Israel's crossing the Red Sea.

Pharaoh's forces had overtaken the fleeing Hebrew slaves. The sea was in front of them--their former taskmasters were behind them. On both sides was the desert, where no life could survive. In hopelessness and despair, the children of Israel cried out to Moses...

To their utter astonishment, a path opened up before them amidst the waters of the sea. They crossed over and once again could attempt to flee from the Egyptians. Suddenly there was no need to run. The Egyptians were no more.

Pharaoh's chariots, his men, and his horses were swamped by the returning waters and were drowned in the churning sea. The sages elaborate upon this theme:

Ma she'ra'ata shifcha al ha-yam, lo ra-u ha-nevi'im b'aspaklaria ha-m'eera. "What the humble maidservant saw at the Red Sea, the prophets did not see in their clearest vision."

This saying of the sages can be aptly applied to our generation, for we were privileged to see the miracles of which our forbears could only dream. Upon the ashes of its people, a nation was born. Even as Jews were being liquidated in the crematories of Auschwitz and Meidanek, the Jewish State was being conceived. From the remnants of that holocaust was Israel constituted, and of embers snatched from the crematories was the light rekindled.

When we examine events in our day--even the most humble stand witness to miracles such as the wisest and most clairvoyant couldn't imagine in years gone by.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews found the answer to the problem of their corporate or group survival. However, at the same time, individually they reached near spiritual bankruptcy.

A people is as strong as its weakest individual, and it is the sum total of individuals which constitutes the nation. Every Jew, therefore, carries the responsibility for the entire people--past, present, and future--and must say "in my hand is the destiny of my people."

In the past, when our forbears could only dream of being a nation and having a land of their own, Jews had stature, dignity, and purpose. They were consecrated and dedicated. Their lives were lived in purity and holiness. They were at home in the synagogue and they had a proper sense of values. They could differentiated not only between the holy and profane but between degrees of holiness--L'havdil bein kodesh l'kodesh.

The Torah was an open book to them. The wisdom of the ages was their possession. The sages, the scholars, and religious teachers of all ages were their daily companions. Though separated by centuries and even millennia, they could converse with Isaiah and Jeremiah, Abaye and Ravva, Maimonides and Judah Halevi.

We who have witnessed so much--

We who have witnessed so much are not able to testify. Our tragedy is that we live our lives as if there was nothing more to Jewish survival than physical preservation. Our basic infamy is that we do not have standards to guide our lives--we are strangers to ourselves.

We do not see the forest for the trees and appreciate not the miracles of redemption and salvation wrought in our day. Too often, our identification ends with our contribution and our interest is only aroused again with the next solicitation; then only to the extent of "how quickly and how cheaply can I end it."

We cannot afford to secure the peoplehood of Israel and lose the individual. Neither can we console ourselves with survival of that remnant settled in the land of our fathers and accept the ultimate disappearance of those beyond its borders.

In the State of Israel, the Jew is sustained by the earth upon which he walks--the same upon which the feet of the prophets trod. With every breath he inhales the air his forbears did. In tilling the soil he is fructifying his ancestral land.

In other lands, the Jew must strike roots deep in the spiritual soil of his people if he is to survive. Through observance of our religious institutions--the Shabbat, the festivals, kashrut--through the synagogue dedicated to God and the home permeated with Jewish symbols and flavor can he hope to retain his Jewish identity.

If we desire the preservation of the Jewish people, each one of us must seek the preservation of the Jew. The orchestration of the individuals forms the peoplehood of Israel. That is our task as I see it. To save the Jew for the Jewish people. Numbers are so important that each one counts for a world.

Kol ha-m'kayem nefesh achat mi-yisrael k'illu ki-yem olam maley.

If we sustain one soul in Israel, it is as if we had saved an entire world.

The converse is just as true. If we lose one individual by defection or indifference, a world is destroyed in the loss of productive energy.

If we inspire one to a larger measure of devotion, we add another log to keep the fire of Judaism blazing.

That, then, is my plea to our congregants. Identification not only through contribution but in opinion and participation--to feel the joys of accomplishments, to glory in victory, and feel travail in reverses, God forbid.

That, too, is our approach to Jewish education. More than merely imparting information, we seek to establish attitudes. More than the book knowledge, we convey the striking of roots in the creation of a living spirit. The aim of our school is to expose our children to religious worship--to the festival observances--the Chanukah and Purim festivities--and the wealth of Passover ceremonials. I would invite you to visit our premises almost any evening and witness the enthusiasm and spirit our teenagers as they participate in Israeli song and dance.

To hope for complete success would be utopian--if we are able to inspire a few, our job is worthwhile. When we evaluate our results, our investments is paying high dividends. May we say with the Psalmist: "Mei-eit Hashem haita zot, hee niflat b'eyneinu."

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