[A] large part of the multi-faceted problem of border control, many say, is the fact that the U.S. is an immigrant country; the legacy of this great nation is not a nationalistic one. The Unites States of America is a young country which never was the center of a certain religion, nor was it a land that bred a unique race. To the contrary: this country was established to protect one race from another and one religion from another by making itself a safe haven for anyone prosecuted in his or her homeland for their beliefs and creedal properties.
Yet to make such a nation thrive and to prevent a certain belief or race from overpowering another, a phenomenon of human nature has occurred in democracies of the past when special action had to be taken. The founding fathers, humans who saw humanity at its best and at its worst, sought to create a nation that would not be nationalistic, yet patriotic, not ignore their differences yet rise above them – they set out to place values that all humans must embrace and freedoms that cannot be stripped of anyone.
These were values that ensured that even when the oppressed grow and prosper, they would not forget their oppressed brothers, and when they reached out for help we would identify ourselves in their suffering and offer them the G-d given freedoms we enjoy.
These were the values that underlined the American immigration policy over the years and despite setbacks here and there under administrations with a different set of values, this approach persevered.
An excellent example of this is the mass immigration of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 1800s. In retrospect, with all its negative impact on religious observance, this mass immigration of over 1.8 million in a span of 30 years (1881-1912) was G-d’s way to save the embers of Jewry and authentic Judaism from the holocaust which soon followed. American Jewry also funded and supported its brethren in less golden countries during hard times. This was just another fulfillment of the “kindness that G-d has bestowed upon Israel by dispersing them amongst the nations.” So in essence, rejecting immigration isn’t an American value. But at the very same time, immigration has to be controlled. Realistically speaking, we cannot accommodate everyone at once, and even among those we intake, many argue that we must give preference to skilled workers who can support themselves and their families. This is the background to the formation of the immigration quotas, currently standing at a rate of 675,000 per year.
Judaism too faces a similar dilemma. Judaism is an “immigrant religion.” A midrashic analogy explains what happened at Mt. Sinai when G-d gave the Torah: “A king decreed that citizens of Rome shall not descend to Syria and citizens of Syria shall not ascend to Rome. At one point the king removed the decree and declared “I will be the first!” and thus “G-d descended upon Mt. Sinai.”” (Midrash Tanchuma on Shemot 9:15)
Since the dawn of time there was a schism between heaven and Earth – between spirituality and physicality. G-d has set up a system in which G-dliness dominates the heavens and materialism dominates earth. Yet the ultimate goal is that there be free trade between the two and ultimately spirituality will assimilate into physicality and vice versa; that physicality becomes a vessel and conduit of divine meaning and wisdom and that spirituality become as real and as tangible to us as materialism is.
Man too was created as such: “There are three things in which man resembles the ministering angels and three in which he resembles the animal kingdom; he was given his creator’s knowledge, he stands on two, and speaks the holy tongue like the angels, he eats and sleeps and procreates and dies just as animals do.” (Chagiga 7b.)
The giving of the Torah was G-d’s “free trade and immigration act” which for the first time in history made it possible for physical objects to become conduits of G-dliness and allowed spirituality to access the divine potential found only in this lowly world.
Jews are not required to live a life of detachment from the world, on the contrary! Judaism is a system that was made specifically for that purpose – to create communication between G-d and the world.
And here is where we come to the secure borders issue. Judaism believes, encourages and even mandates by the virtue of its laws to admit physicality into the service of G-d, yet care has to be taken so that the right sort and the proper number of people enter. Here is where we need “border control”. Just because America is an immigrant country doesn’t mean we accept anyone; we only take in those who pledge allegiance to the country, will follow its laws, and will defend it when needed. We cannot let in drug dealers and terrorists! We must admit hard workers and prefer skilled ones! We cannot allow forms of physicality to enter our system to pollute our spiritual experience and relationship with G-d. What we take in is only for the purpose of enhancing our practice.
Jewishly speaking, despite the ban lifted between heaven and Earth, there are rules regulating the trade: A Jew must eat, but not every kind of food (Kosher). A Jew must engage in business, but must adhere to laws of integrity and honesty. A Jew must labor, but not on every day (Shabbat). A Jew must marry, but not anyone. To sum it up, Jews are required to admit physicality into their life. Asceticism is not a Jewish value, and at the very same time we must maintain a tight screening process as to what and how much of it enters.
The challenge gets harder as to determine and to screen such immigrants that don’t display a record of crime, yet neither do they posses outstanding intellectual and social skills complete with diplomas from outstanding universities. When he comes, you don’t know what to make of him: when his real face is eventually exposed will he be a professor, or perhaps he will turn out to be a criminal. For instance, a legal immigrant recently killed four law enforcement officers in Arizona -a case that the conservative party officials will never let us forget.
In Jewish thought we learn of three classes: good, evil, and neutral. The material entities in this world which are not treif (unkosher) but also don’t belong to the realm of holiness, while there is no prohibition against consuming them, there is no commandment to do so. They can pull us down and cause us to become egocentric hedonists and they can help us lead a calm life which we could dedicate to serving G-d with tranquility.
The solution for this is again, tight screening. It is hard to know from the outset what every single immigrant will end up doing; maybe they themselves don’t even know. Life contains many surprises, still we must develop a certain formula which can help us determine these people’s intentions based on many factors.
Spiritually speaking, we don’t need to wait five to 20 years to see, and the stakes are not so high if we choose to reject something. If we are honest with ourselves, we can easily determine where these “kosher indulgences” lead us to. Do they enhance our spiritual experience, or do they perhaps make us more materialistically oriented? Did this new smartphone that I purchased ease my mind and let me focus better on my prayer, learning, and the time spent with my family, or did it desensitize my desire for prayer and Torah study? If the answer is to the affirmative then we may carefully proceed. If it’s a no, then as hard as it seems, we must stop in our tracks and rid our lives of it before it gets to the next stage.