I want to wish my wife and mother a happy birthday. That sounds strange, as if they are the same people. But no, I did not marry my mother. Not literally anyway. Both my mother and my wife happened to be born on the 12th of November.
What are the odds that my wife would be born on the same day as my mother? I guess if you believe in destiny, then the odds were 100% — it was predetermined; she is my besherit. If you don’t believe in destiny, then the odds are somewhere around 1 in 365.
Everything depends on what you believe, which is what I want to blog about today: Jewish Beliefs. It is our beliefs that formed the Jewish nation. It is our beliefs that kept us as a nation through generation after generation of exile. We are not a nation defined by our power by our land or our by our conquests. We have survived without power, without land, and long after being conquered. We are a people of Laws. Values. Beliefs.
There are many Jewish beliefs. For example, some Jews believe that waving a chicken around your head will remove your sins. Some Jews believe that wearing a red thread around your wrist will ward off the evil eye. But these things are more like superstitions. I think that the core Jewish beliefs, the ones that formed us and kept us, can be boiled down to two.
My mother taught me the first Jewish belief. If I was frustrated with somebody, my mother would always say to me, “David, you can learn something from anybody.” Of course my mother was right and that every human has value. Judaism teaches that every human is of immeasurable value. The rabbis teach that “saving one life is like saving the entire world.” Even three thousand years ago, the Jewish Kings were held to the same laws as their subjects. In other nations, the Kings wrote the law. In the Jewish Nation, the Kings were equally subject to the law. It is the idea that every human possesses a soul, something of immeasurable value given to us directly from Hashem, that leads to the Jewish belief in the sanctity of life. All life. This first core belief separated the Jewish people from the other ancient peoples.
My wife taught me the second Jewish belief. There are a lot of times when my problems seem overwhelming. My wife always tells me that “B’azrat Hashem, everything is possible.” Believing in the value of human life is one thing. Believing that everything is possible is much harder. But being a Jew means that you must believe that everything is possible. Jews believe that Hashem created the world. Jews understand that the world is not perfect. But Jews believe that it is not only possible, but that it is the job of all humans to perfect the world. As it is written in ethics of our fathers, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” The work is tikkun olam, the perfection of the world. It is hard to believe that it is possible to solve all the problems in the world, but we have to believe that it is possible. Because first you have to believe in it and only then can you work to make it happen.
It is this second belief, that the world can be perfected, and that we are not destined for suffering on earth that separated the Jewish nation from all other nations. Other nations taught the reward for suffering would be in the afterlife. Judaism teaches that we must make this world like the “Garden of Eden.” And that this is possible, because Hashem is with us and helping us.
My wife always reminds me that Hashem is with me, and that because of that, everything is possible. She has taught me to believe. My wife has shown me that miracles happen. You just have to believe.
So happy birthday to the women who taught me how to believe, and what to believe in. First that all human life is sacred. Second, that it is possible to perfect the world. Of course, both these beliefs are only possible if we believe in the real single basic Jewish core belief: The belief in Hashem. Human life is sacred because of the belief in the existence of the soul — a piece of Hashem in each of us. Perfection of the world is possible if we believe that Hashem created the world and continues to support us in ourefforts to perfect it.