Carol Green Ungar

The Torah Is Real

It’s hard to take the Torah seriously. I know I didn’t, not for a long time. Sure, the text had moving moments; Abraham’s pleas to G-d to save Sodom, Moses saving the lost lamb, the midwives defying Pharaoh to birth Jewish babies—but on the whole, the Torah seemed like a fairy tale.

At College Barnard, the women’s branch of the now notorious Columbia University, our  Book of Books took its place alongside Ovid and Homer and the tales of Zeus and Hera, yet another myth and fantasy. Anyone who believed it was a crazed fundamentalist. Somehow this attitude seeped into me. Though I kept Shabbat and Kashrut, I didn’t study the Torah. I could barely stand to listen to the Torah reading at shul!

It was only when I reached middle age that I started to see the Torah as a serious text indeed the serious text. What inspired me was the teaching by Rabbi Yakov Kamenetky, a beloved 20th-century sage who said that reading the Chumash, e.g., the written Torah, was the source of faith and the path to becoming a believer for real. Who doesn’t want to believe? Isnt faith far better than cynicism disbelief, and despair? Immediately. I plunged in. It wasn’t always easy. Some portions are interesting, such as the creation story, the patriarchs, and the exodus, but there’s also lots of legal information and instructions about the tabernacles, sacrifices, and holiday laws, which are tedious and boring. Still, I plowed through, and slowly, the Torah seeped into me.

The Torah can be harsh—the flood, the ten plagues, Korach, and his rebellious minions being swallowed up by the ground, the man who cursed G-d being stoned by his fellows, the genocide of the Amalekites–none of this is easy to swallow, especially for  21st-century snowflakes and even I have my inner snowflakes but the Torah is eternal and true–that’s the baseline for being a believing Jew.

The hardest part is the Tochacha, which appears several times, one of them in this week’s Torah reading. The Tochacha is where G-d lays it all out.

‘If you keep the rules, says G-d, it’ll be good. You’ll have food to eat, adequate rainfall, and a glorious life, but if you don’t. –well, that’s where it gets really hard. G-d has expectations- a code of behavior and, like a good parent, consequences.

You don’t need to be a prophet to see that we have veered from this path—our lack of unity being one prominent example.  Just this week, police clashed with both worshippers at Meron and freed the hostage at any price demonstrators—and that was just one day.

As a society, we are flouting the rules–each one of us in his or her own individual way, religious people included, and we are living with the consequences. This war is a Tochacha experience–that doesn’t mean that our soldiers are guilty. They are not but they are dying for our sins. Yes, that was a Jewish idea before the Christians expropriated it. We are responsible for one and another and we are brothers and sisters. And we need to fix ourselves fast before the full wrath of G-d lands upon our collective heads.

About the Author
Carol Ungar is a prize-winning author who writes from the Judean Hills.
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