Generalists Or Specialists?

I often wonder if each of us is really expected to do it all. The number of  religious people who take an active part in Israel’s defense has dramatically increased. Likewise, a growing number of formerly non-religious people, who historically have taken the lead in Israel’s military, are returning to tradition as they begin to explore our shared religious heritage.

Tragically, the long-standing divide persists. With a few notable exceptions (including, of course, much of the Sephardi, as well as the national religious/hesder factions, which I’m not discussing since they’ve already developed a fine balance), most prominent and inspiring (orthodox and charedi) rabbis discuss the yearly cycle of holy days and Torah readings with no reference (except, perhaps, when an actual war is raging) at all to Israel’s life-and-death struggles with its neighbors. Likewise, again with some notable exceptions, most people writing about Israel’s many challenges address military and diplomatic issues as if Israel were “a nation like all others” (either an unrealistic hope of an unintended curse, depending on your orientation) with no mention of the spiritual reasons why it is this specific piece of real estate we must defend..

Although it’s only speculation (and I invite your thoughts as comments to this post) I wonder if it would really make more than a marginal contribution if more people from the religious camp, specifically the ultra-orthodox/charedi, took an active role in the IDF and other national service options and if more people in the military, government, diplomatic as well as our public advocates in the media, were to involve themselves more (at least privately) with Judaism.

From another angle, I can restate the question by asking if, ideally, we should all be generalists or if strict specialization is required in at least some areas. I ask this question as a deeply spiritual one–I take it for granted that God’s oversight (hashgacha pratit) leads to every situation we find ourselves; perhaps those involved in the practical have already, in previous incarnations, “ticked all their checkboxes” in terms of religious observance that could only have been done by their unique neshamot (souls), just as those now devout have, previously, taken care of all the “practical world” tikkunim they were assigned.

(The above is based on the teachings of our mystical tradition that each soul has specific netzutzot, holy sparks, embedded in physical reality that it must identify, integrate and raise up to the Holy Source Of All.)

It’s been said by many, including my own rebbe, Rabbi Shloime Twerski zt”l, that our generation is spiritually and in other ways very weak. While that is observably true, our era, both practically and spiritually, requires very special neshamot, souls, to address our challenges. Perhaps one parameter in which these neshamot are, indeed, weak is that most of us are incapable of successful “multi-tasking”. However, our neshamot match what our times require us to be:  highly focused specialists, often working in one realm or the other. Instead of fighting among ourselves, religious versus worldly, devaluing and delegitimizing each other, we each need thank, appreciate and celebrate our fellows. כל ישראל עֲרֵבִים זה לזה, Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh l’Zeh, all of Yisrael are woven together in a single fabric where each of us, soldier and Torah scholar alike, complement our unique and absolutely vital contributions.

Ketiva v’Chatima Tova

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5 Responses to Generalists Or Specialists?

  1. Jacques Ruda says:

    Ariel Sharon z’l, said in his autobiography that the problem with secular Israelis is that they do not realize they are Jewish and the problem with the Haredi is they do not believe they are Israeli.May you be inscribed for a good and healthy year. I very much appreciate your posts.

  2. Mr. Cohen says:

    David Horowitz Chilling Exchange with Muslim Student
    (Muslim student at the University of California, San Diego
    publicly admits she favors killing all Jews all around the world.)

  3. Howard says:

    Hi Harry,

    As always I enjoy reading your thoughts. I must respectfully disagree with the statement that “that our generation is spiritually and in other ways very weak”. This is a claim every spiritual or religious leader makes -or can make- of his (or her) times. It is too easy to make this sort of claim. At the end of the day there is no real evidence to support it.

    l’shana tovah,


    • I don’t mean this as a criticism, but as a description. Perhaps I’m using a limited definition of spiritual strength and weakness, one based in traditional (read: orthodox), halacha-based Judaism, but I stand by the statement. Many contemporary poskim, even in the charedi world, for example, exempt many more people from fasting the “minor fasts” (i.e. not Yom Kippur or Tisha B’Av), although physically and nutritionally we’re vastly superior to previous generations. This is one of the two primary reasons I strenuously oppose most chumrot (overly-strict interpretations of halacha). It’s not that we’re incapable of taking the more difficult path, but that doing so rarely moves us closer to God these days.
      I always appreciate hearing from you, Howard, and wish you and your wonderful family a year filled with brachot!

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