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Opting Out

Friday, 24 June, 2016 - 11:17 am

The votes are in. The Brexit is official. The United Kingdom has decided to withdraw from the European Union. Across the world people are closely watching the choice that Britain has made. How will it affect the economy? Will other nations follow suit? What will be the effect on immigration? How will it impact the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States?

Essentially, for the United Kingdom, British identity trumped European identity.

Across the Atlantic, a spirit of rebellion can also be felt – to a degree.  The status quo of the state of affairs in the United States is unacceptable to many Americans.  We remain divided on what steps to take. Is there an opt-out option for us?

As a Jew the question goes further. Can a Jew opt out of his or her identity?

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The menorah is one of the most famous Jewish symbols. The seven-branched candelabra was a centerpiece of the daily rituals in the Bait Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem.

The prophets and the mystics teach that the menorah represents the Jewish people.  According to the kabbalistic tradition the seven branches of the menorah correspond to the seven emotive attributes. The diverse emotional makeup of the Jewish people is personified in the seven branches, each extending in its own path.

The many directions and components of the menorah attest to the fact that the Jewish nation is comprised of different tribes, and includes individuals from all walks of life.

However, two laws about the menorah, mentioned in this week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, underscore a different element of the Jewish people. The menorah was hammered out of a single piece of gold. It began as a single lump and remained a single object until the finished product, a highly unusual requirement for an implement as complex as the menorah.

Additionally, all the lamps of the menorah – although seemingly intended to proliferate light – had to face the central lamp.

G-d’s insistence that His object representing the Jewish people must be both diverse and singular at the same time, teaches an important lesson.

There are nations that are a coalition of various groups, each formed by its own ancestry and experience but welded together by common interest and habitat. This is not the case with the Jewish people: all souls of Israel are of a single essence, and their division into distinct individuals is merely their investment into different bodies and physical lives. Their purpose is to be a light unto the nations, each individual Jew utilizing his or her unique qualities. But, their identity will always be the same. Their essence remains connected to and inherently defined by its Source.

Because nationality is not the essence of who a person is, individuals – and nations – can decide to alter their identity.  But, just as a human cannot change to a nonhuman, a Jew cannot opt out. Once a Jew, always a Jew isn’t just a saying. It’s revealing a plain truth about the essence of the soul.

If we are tuned in to our true identity, it’s a lot easier to fulfill our purpose.

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