Rabbi Yehuda Krohn, Psy.D.NEFESH International Publications and Information
Welcome to the August edition of Mind Body & Soul, themed Safe families; safe communities. In this issue we consider the various opportunities that present themselves, to create safety within ourselves, our families and our communities.
In particular, Menachem Hojda advises the larger community how to aim for security, especially when some of its members are at risk. Chana Mark guides individuals toward safety when they experience the fraught emotion of anger. Alan Singer shepherds married couples toward safety and stability. Simcha Feuerman cautions couples contemplating marriage not to sabotage the formative bonds of trust and safety.
I’d like to focus your attention on the nature of the relationship between safe families and safe communities. Some of us might view the relationship as moving in only one direction. We argue: “The family is the building block of society. So, by fostering safe families, we are building safe communities.”
Needless to say, the converse is also true. When we invest in a community’s safety, we influence the safety of its member families. This is true, whether we are discussing our immediate community - that is, the Orthodox Jewish community - or the broader community. The broader community includes those who are not Orthodox and those who are not Jewish. In each case, safe communities lead to safer families.
Orthodox communal safety starts with ensuring that our Shuls, schools, and homes are safe from the intrusions of hostile invaders. Whether we speak out against anti-Semitism, form community protection groups, or coordinate active shooter drills, we are attending to an essential part of community safety.
The quest for safety continues with our concern for the internal wellbeing of our community. We need to ask ourselves: Are there members of our community who are living in poverty or other untenable conditions? Can most community members reasonably meet their financial obligations? Are there adults, teens, or children who are struggling with observance or with living healthy, wholesome lives? Is our community being ravaged by sexual predators or (increasingly) by predatory lenders, arising from within our ranks? Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves: If only some of us are safe, are we, as a community, truly secure?
In our role as community members, we need to recognize the imperative, actually the Mitzvah, to address the above in a meaningful way. Some of us might engage, outright, in community work. Others help, by donating their money, time, and/or advocacy toward a communal need. In the least, we can be mindful of the notion that Tz‘niut (modesty) is not just about hemlines and necklines. It’s also about not flaunting something we possess that others do not. One way or another, we are all in a position to demonstrate a sense of compassion, concern, and community toward those who live outside the four walls of our homes.
Although it may not be at the forefront of our consciousness, we are also responsible for fostering a positive relationship between ourselves and the communities that exist beyond our own. The principle - the Halachic value - of Darchei Shalom/Peaceful Ways actively determines how we are expected to interact with non-observant and less-observant Jews. It also influences how we should interact with Gentiles.
Darchei Shalom instructs us to be mindful of the footprint we leave in the broader community. Do we come across as supporting only our own or as religiously snobbish? (See Gittin 61a.) Darchei Shalom can and should influence how we approach situations in communities where there is a growing Orthodox presence. Are we acting aggressively in trying to find a house for our families? Do we dignify non-Orthodox people who cross our paths with eye contact, a smile, a kind word?
Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, successor to Rav Azriel Hildesheimer of Berlin, taught that Darchei Shalom doesn’t just mean “Be fair and decent toward non-Jews, so that they don’t harm us.” Rather it encompasses the vision of Yeshaya Hanavi that the Jewish people shall serve as “a light unto the nations”. We can only be a positive influence on the nations, when we haven’t given them reason to view us as rude, crude, or disdainful.
Moreover, Rav Hoffman’s approach suggests that our concern for the broader community extends, beyond how we “brand” ourselves, to a genuine concern for the welfare of fellow human beings. We inevitably encounter people who dress, speak, and look differently than we do. We face the choice of walling off our concern for them or, alternatively, recognizing that they are our neighbors, our mail carriers, the support staff and general staff at the establishments we visit. They are the employees of some of the wealthier members of our community, the tenants of our community’s real estate developers.
Can we recognize the humanity they share with us? Are we able to appreciate that they, too, have hopes and dreams, motivations and desires? Many have families, not all that different from ours. Can we extend dignity toward them? Can we even demonstrate empathy toward communities that are in the grips of violence and despair and who are still affected by prejudice?
The imperative to show concern for a community starts with our own, but it extends toward differently-observant and non-observant Jews, as well as to non-Jews. The choice we make to attend to the safety and wellbeing of the widening circle of communities in which we find ourselves ultimately supports the safety of our individual families.
Wishing all our readers a happy, healthy, and safe New Year.
Rabbi Yehuda Krohn, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, provides individual and couples therapy in his Chicago-area private practice. He is now authorized to provide teletherapy in NJ and other Psy-Pact participating states. Rabbi Dr. Krohn, writes and presents on Torah, Psychology and the intersection of the two. He is a board member of Nefesh International.
Rabbi Dr. Krohn can be reached, by phone, at 847-763-1184 and, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.