So Ben made a good point that my last post ended without bringing up some other important points. I felt like it was running a bit long and so I cut myself short…
With that said, let’s continue the conversation for just a bit…
Ben brought up some questions that could have been looked at and discussed in more depth.The first: Just because there are important things a Jew has to do, does that mean one can loophole through the Torah?
Interpretation is key. We can see all too well these days that facts are almost no longer facts, for they are filtered through very different lenses. We find those who agree with us, and tend to stick with that and run in those circles, and this can be seen in many facets of life, including religion. The key is to be as open as possible to the truth and trying to find the truth of Torah.
The second: How does one work together with the community?
This is a tricky one, too, as there are things vital to Jews, that non-Jews and the community might not understand. However, mutual respect and working together MUST happen. We must do a good job explaining things, and figuring out a way to keep harmony and balance, which is always something we need to strive for.
The Eruv and the discussion around it brings all of this up. Do I see both sides? Yes. Do I know the answers? Hardly. The key is to proceed with kindness, humility and respect, all lessons learned from Torah, and that is what leads me into this week’s post.At the end of Tisha B’Av, Rabbi Avi Rabin spoke of the story of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. His story was controversial at the time because, when asked by Vespasian (who would go on to become the Roman emperor from AD 69 to AD 79) what he wanted, he did not ask for Jerusalem to be saved, but to “transplant the center of Torah scholarship to another location, to ensure the survival of Torah study after Jerusalem’s destruction.”
“Rabbi Yochanan made three requests. The primary request was that Vespasian spare Yavne – which would become the new home of the Sanhedrin – and its Torah sages.”
Many were besides themselves that he did not ask for Jerusalem to be spared. How could he do that, or not do that??? But he knew that would happen regardless. He knew he needed to do something else… to save Torah and study.
Vespasian would go on to lay siege to Jerusalem, but “Rabbi Yochanan thus ensured the continuation of Jewish scholarship after the fall of Jerusalem. Even though they would no longer have a Temple or a homeland, the Jews would always have a spiritual center in the Torah.”
While the request might have been very confusing and unclear at the time, the actual clarity and wisdom and has resonated throughout all time. The survival of Judaism is not dependent on the Temple or even Jerusalem and Israel… it is dependent on Torah, the study of Torah, and mitzvot.
Israel, even for many Jews, is a hotbed issue. So put it to the side, just for the moment. That is not to say that Israel is not essential, it is. And Israel needs our help daily to ensure its survival. But Judaism can exist without it… and did.
Rome is gone… Judaism lives on.
The Temple destroyed… Judaism lives on.
The Inquisition and Pogroms and the Holocaust… Judaism lives on.
As Avi says, we are here because of all of those who came before us. Our family… the generations who came before… and because the Torah and the study of it… the codification… the Mishnah was preserved and saved. For many of us, whose family was not observant, or even atheist, we have come back. We have returned and we study.
Judaism exists in our DNA and in our souls. While we pray for and desire to see the Temple rebuilt, we can be Jews without it. There is a beauty in Judaism, because it starts before life. It literally enters our bodies and souls and exists forever, no matter what path we take.
While we wish the best for Jerusalem and Israel, and forgive me for even saying this, we can be Jews without it. Judaism predates Jerusalem and Israel. Judaism predates the Temple. We pray for the Temple to be rebuilt and for us to return, but… Judaism does and will remain because Judaism is built on Torah and Mitzvah. If we remember that, so many issues slip away… politics and arguments slip away.
The Torah is a blueprint from which our minds, bodies and souls are created. Therefore our lives must be built and developed with Torah and mitzvot.
Tisha B’Av teaches us to always be rebuilding when we get knocked down or even destroyed. We can and should experience sadness, but we MUST allow it to move us forward, to rebuild and return, to learn and grow. This is who and what we are.