There are times when I look at this blog as a respite… an escape from the world, where we can discuss Judaism in the purest way. But if we truly believe that Torah is a blueprint for living, then we must be able to use it in everyday life… and to help deal with situations that arise. The very purpose of Torah is to teach us how to live, to give us life lessons and “laws.” Aye, there’s the rub.
One of the main criticisms I have heard about Judaism is that it is a religion of laws… Do this, don’t do that… over and over. This is, of course, a shallow, ignorant and dismissive way of defining Judaism. For those of us who truly study it, we know there is so much more. With every lesson I receive, I feel so much more connected and inspired. Pirkei Avos should be required reading for every human being. It is a collection of common sense and uplifting gems.
While there are commandments and things we must do and follow in order to stay truly connected with Hashem, Judaism allows for so much joy and beauty. At its core, Judaism is all about kindness and compassion. Torah teaches us how to be the best human being we can be and how to take care of our fellow human beings.
In the Amidah alone, and if my counting is correct, we say the word “compassion” nine times, “compassionate” (especially when referring to G-d) three times, and “kindness” seven times! We say this about G-d. We ask G-d for these things. Therefore, we MUST be willing to be them and give them ourselves!
We live in a tricky world, and in a short time we seem more divided than I can ever recall. Israel has become a political hotbed, and so has Judaism. It saddens me that we are as divided as the rest of the country is. And while I would never expect all of us to fall to the same political parties or ideologies, I would hope that we are more on the same page in regards to certain thoughts and ideas, especially when it comes to humanity. We are, after all, supposed to be the light unto the world.
Mark Twain wrote of the Jews: “He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.
His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him.”
John Adams wrote this to Thomas Jefferson: “I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize man than any other nation.”
Torah story after Torah story, Book after Book teaches us the essential importance of Chesed and Tzedaka.
In the Book Of Ruth we learn explicitly about generosity and supporting the poor by leaving excess food in the fields. Loving Kindness is the base of our foundation. It is, or must be, who we are as a people!
25 Jewish groups have recently sent a letter to Jeff Sessions, asking for the policy of separating children to be stopped. While this list included the ADL, most of the signers were from Reform organizations. This is not a unified front. If anyone should be protective of children and things like this, it should be Jews.
Laws are what keep a civilized society safe and protected and together. Of course we need laws, but we also need compassion. The word “AND” is an important connector and way to define… It should not be this OR that… but this AND that. We can have laws AND compassion. Rules AND kindness.
If one had to reduce Judaism to its core, the “Three T’s” would be a good way to go.
Tefila (Prayer) – A personal connection between each individual and G-d.
Tzedaka (Charity) – Not simply giving money… but giving of oneself… giving of one’s time… connecting human beings to each other. Common humanity. We are, after all, mostly the same.
Teshuva (Repentance, Return) – The “classic” definition, especially during the High Holidays is repentance… and we must be able to truly and sincerely apologize for own our mistakes and try very hard not to repeat them. This is called evolving, growing… We must also accept the apologies of others, which is, surprisingly, not always easy.
But “return” makes much more sense to me… We need to RETURN to who we are, or who we were… Happy, loving, kind, generous and connected human beings. For THIS is what Torah teaches us!
If we watch the news, or have political debates or discussions, it is easy to see how far we have moved away from these basic notions. People seem meaner and angrier. People seem to jump to hate much quicker. People seem to be more willing than ever to defend their position and separate, rather than compromise and connect.
Let us return to compassion and kindness. After all, it’s all right there in the book… It’s all right there in the lessons of the Torah. Let us all be there, too… together, as one people… one compassionate and kind people.