Monday, August 1, 2011

Don’t Just Do Jewish!

Shabbat Dvarim (Chazon)
Dvarim 1:1 – 3:22
6 Av 5771 / August 5-6, 2011

Don’t Just Do Jewish!
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

After each Torah portion, a section of the Prophets is also read, called the Haftorah. During the Three Weeks (leading up to Tisha B’Av) we read specific writings that fit into the themes of despair and punishment. This Shabbat, connected to Parshat Dvarim, we read a famous Haftorah that begins with the words, “Chazon Yishiyahu,” (The vision of Isaiah). Thus, this Shabbat, the week before Tisha B’Av, is called Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of Vision.

Isaiah’s words take us to the final hour. The moral and ethical level of the Jewish people has fallen beyond repair and the only solution is exile. The Holy Land (and G-d too) will not tolerate inhabitants that offer meaningless sacrifices, judge without righteousness, and ignore the poor and needy. I find it very wise that as we read the opening section to Moshe’s farewell address in Dvarim, we also read about the shortcoming of our community several generations later. Moshe’s speech is given at the boundary of the Land of Israel. He reviews some of the challenges that were had on the way to the Promised Land. Finally, the Israelites can actualize their dream. The promise to Abraham will become manifest! And in a blink of an eye, we read Isaiah’s admonishment, “Woe! O sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evil, destructive children.” (1:4).

Isaiah reminds the people, both our ancestors and us, about what is truly important. He pleads, “Learn to do good, seek justice, strengthen the victim, do justice for the orphan, take up the cause of the widow.” What good is “doing Jewish” if the world around us is not getting any better. Kashrut, Shabbat, and Torah study are not practices that will inherently improve our communities. They are some of the Jewish tools that have the potential for transformation. The key though is our own intention and how the world is impacted as a result of our engagement with Judaism.

I often hear and think about this question: So, why be Jewish? You can transform the world as a Buddhist or an atheist. Does it add anything if we do things in a “Jewish way”?

No one should have a really perfect answer to this question, because we should never seek to completely invalidate one life path over another. My “work-in-progress” answer is that having a foundation story to connect with adds a tremendous amount of meaning to our engagement with the world. Our Jewish story fuels our passions, it frames our exploration of certain values and beliefs, and it creates an intimate bond in a sometimes lonely and empty universe. Also, I do think there is something real for me about spiritual connection that makes me resonate with Judaism over other religions. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Have a beautiful week and a meaningful Shabbat.


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