What Jews do

“Are we destined to keep fighting each other?” asked a loyal friend of Israel earlier this week.  He was troubled by the recent arrest in Israel of a rabbi for not conforming to authorities who seemed to be flouting their jurisdiction. “Is this just what Jews do?”

Surely not, I replied. Internal strife is endemic but it is not inevitable.  But his question deserved a better answer.  What do Jews do? 

Those hostile to our people have their answer.  We manipulate media, control monetary systems, and abuse power.  Friendlier fellow travelers from other faiths have a different answer.    We stand with the powerless and promote healing in the world. 

This week’s portion of Torah offers some additional answers.  From the verses following the Shema yisrael we learn about one thing we do.  At the dawn and dusk of every single day we proclaim our heartfelt love for God.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your being” (Deut. 6:5).  That love runs so deep that we choose to instill it in our kids, to bind it to our bodies, and to affix it to our doorways. 

Another thing Jews do is tell stories.  “Someday when your child asks” our portion clarifies “what is the meaning of these laws, customs, and traditions?  You shall say, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt” (Deut. 6:20-21).   Our most authentically religious deeds spring forth from the way our dear God chose to shape our founding story and the values that emerge from it. 

Lastly, we comfort and console each other.  This Shabbat is identified with consolation.  It launches a seven week ascension from the mourners’ bench to our High Holy Days.  The Jewish ways of mourning are often lauded for their psychological acumen.  A vital aspect of their strength is an unwillingness to turn away from pain, a refusal to talk ourselves out of feeling as we feel.  This too is reflected in our scriptural portion when we revisit the same passages of Torah (Deut 4:25-40) that we read earlier this week in synagogue on Tisha B’av morning when our sorrow was raw and deep. 

These are trying times.  What we do about them will prove telling.  Faithful to God’s Torah, may we ever strive to act in ways that enhance God’s reputation (Kiddush HaShem) and warm faith in each other.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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