Motti Wilhelm

Portland is Personal

A screenshot of the NYT July 29. 2023
A screenshot of the NYT July 29. 2023

This week’s NYT Times feature Fighting for Anthony: The Struggle to Save Portland, Oregon is personal.

And seek the peace of the city where I have exiled you and pray for it to the Lord, for in its peace you shall have peace prophesied Yirmiyahu (Jeremia) 3,000 years ago.

Portland is the city to which my family was sent by the Rebbe as Chabad Shluchim and its peace we seek.

The question of how to transform our city into the great place it is meant to be is on the minds of our civic leaders and common citizens.

As a way of ensuring the people entering the land of Israel would uphold their ideals, Moshe instructed them and all subsequent generations in the recitation of the Shema – The Daily Declaration of Faith.

A close reading of its three paragraphs is instructive in shaping civilizations.

The first paragraph, called “V’Ahavta”, describes an absolutely loving relationship with the Divine and his precepts. It speaks of the person who as Maimonides writes “does what is true because it is true”. Rewards are superfluous and consequences unnecessary and thus not mentioned in this paragraph.

Recognizing that in the world we live, not everyone can experience Divinity to the point it holds them in check, we recite a second paragraph. In it we speak not only to people “how they ought to be” but also “as they are”. In it we lay out how our good choices lead to a life of blessing and wrong ones bring trouble in their wake.

And in the third we discuss redemption. 

We must do the same in diaspora: Envision the world as it ought to be, speak to how it is and bring about redemption.

We must hold dearly onto the vision of the Portland that ought to be: a place in which we support each other through mental health and addiction without needing to “call the police”. A place where education is the only necessary prevention. 

At the same time we need to speak to the city as it is. Accountability and personal responsibility are learned through reward and consequence. We need to strike the balance between empathy and accountability. As the Talmud says “the right hand should draw near and the left hand pushes away”.

The Shema begins with the declaration “Hashem Echad”. The call that there is one creator who made us all. All are here for a reason, with a mission and purpose.

With this foundation, maintaining our ideal and putting it into practice, we can truly become what we were created to be, bringing redemption to the world.


I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Reach me via email or WhatsApp 1-503-381-7119.

About the Author
Rabbi Motti Wilhelm received his diploma of Talmudic Studies from the Rabbinical College of Australia & New Zealand in 2003 and was ordained as a rabbi by the Rabbinical College of America and Israel’s former chief Rabbi Mordecha Eliyahu in 2004. He was the editor of Kovetz Ohelei Torah, a respected Journal of Talmudic essays. He lectures on Talmudic Law, Medical Ethics and a wide array of Jewish subjects and has led services in the United States, Canada, Africa and Australia. His video blog Rabbi Motti's Minute is highly popular as are his weekly emails. Rabbi Wilhelm and his wife Mimi lead Chabad SW Portland as Shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
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