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Thursday
Aug222019

Can we Intermarry and not Assimilate?

A group of people stranded in a forest began to look for means of survival and shelter. They began to chop trees which were generously available to form logs from which a cabin could be constructed.

By Levi Liberow

When they gathered enough logs, they began to build the cabin.

As one log was placed upon another, they encountered a problem: many logs had branches sticking out which prevented a balanced placement of the logs on one another. The men turned to their single ax for help, and once again, the sound of chopping filled the small forest clearing.

A wise man among the group questioned them about their actions: “Why are you wasting such valuable pieces of wood? 

Surprised, they retorte, “Of what value are these branches? They’re only an obstacle!”

“If only you would drill a hole in the log lying beneath the extending branch, that branch would not be an obstacle to the cabin; it would be a peg adding strength to the structure”!

***

One of the reasons the 15th of Menachem Av is so special is that the ban forbidding the Shevatim from “intermarrying” was lifted. The ban came as a response to the tribe of Menashe’s concern that the daughters of Tzlafchad would “bequest” their inheritance to another tribe.

Why was the ban, approved by Hashem, so bad? And If Hashem didn’t care to have the tribal borders maintained, why then did He instruct to divide the land in such a way in the first place?

The trend of history seems to go in favor of the “detribalizing” of the Jews. Today, for all practical purposes, most Jews (aside from Kohanim and Leviyim) are unaware of their Shevet. The loss of “tribal identity,” however, doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted Judaism.

But, at an advanced stage of Moshiach’s reign, “the entire nation’s tribal line of descent will be established on the basis of the Ruach Hakodesh which will rest upon him.” (Hilchos Melachim 12:3)

So, what’s the deal with the Shavatim? Is this division a good thing or not?

Hashem Himself divided Am Yisrael into 12 tribes and will once again bring that division to the fore, but there is a whole celebration when a measure to “blur” that division is introduced!

I think that we can perhaps gain a more balanced perspective of the matter by admitting that “Jewish tribalism” is still alive and well. True, the ancient tribal division is currently not in effect, but we have developed other “tribes” over the centuries:

Historically, we were divided by Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai. More recently still, we are divided by Ashkenazim and Sefardim; Chassidim and Olamishe (non-Chassidim); Chassidim of this group and of that group; and so on.

Is the role of this “tribalism” a positive one in Judaism?

It depends on how we see it. Is my “tribe” one of several other paths of serving Hashem within Am Yisrael? Or do I view “my” tribe as the only legitimate path, and everyone else has got it all wrong?

The second approach is obviously wrong. The Arizal explains that the reason Hillel and Shamai (and their respective “camps”) disagreed so often, was because their neshamos came from different “sides” within kedusha. Hillel was from Chessed and therefore ruled leniently, while Shamai hailed from Gevurah and took a more stringent approach.

The same logic can be applied to the further divisions and sub-divisions of Am Yisrael: we have one shared goal, and many ways to reach it.

A famous expression that comes from the Gemara and is used by the Poskim many times about conflicting minhagim is, “Naharah Nahara Upashtei” — every river has its own flow. And that’s fine if all the streams ultimately reach the sea.

How do you know that your version of “tribalism” is the positive version and not just “chauvinistic” feelings?

Chazal teach us (Yevamos 1:4) that Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel, even when they were bitterly divided, “never refrained from marrying into one another”

We would never consider marrying a non-Jew, even if we find his values and style very much like ours. But Chazal do see it in a very positive light when sages of a very different approach allowed their children to “intermarry.”

This kind of “intermarriage” shows that the machlokes is l’shem Shamayim. It is a testament that my “tribal” identity is second to my foundational identity as a Jew. It is a testament that I value the other’s path, and I’m ready to learn from it and “mix it in” to mine.

We can choose to act like the men in the forest and see the other tribe as almost another nation. We can fear that any dialogue with them will equal an invasion and annexation of our tribal territory.

We do see the log as an integral part of the cabin, but we dedicate time to chopping off what we consider “excess” branches, instead of following the wise man’s advice.

We can use a bit of humility to drill into ourselves instead of “chopping” the other. If we do that, we will find that the other’s branch, although not my type and style, is a useful resource for my own connection to Hashem.

We can intermarry without assimilating after all.

 

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