Judaism: A Religion of Engagement

In our portion we read about events that shape the character of the Jewish people. Yakov’s life becomes a template for the Jewish character. I continue to share with you from the superb insights of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks whose weekly Torah commentaries I am reading through 5771.

“Alone and afraid at the dead of night, Jacob is assaulted by an unnamed stranger. They wrestle. Time passes. Dawn is about to break:”

Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Genesis 31

“So the people Israel acquired its name, surely the strangest and most haunting in all the religious experience of mankind.
Religion, faith, spirituality – these words conjure up many ideas and associations: peace, serenity, inwardness, meditation, calm, acceptance, bliss. Often faith has been conceived as an alternative reality, a “haven in a heartless world,” an escape from the strife and conflict of everyday life. There is much to be said for this idea. But it is not Judaism.

Judaism is not an escape from the world but an engagement with the world. It is not “the opium of the people,” as Karl Marx once called religion. It does not anaesthetize us to the pains and apparent injustices of life. It does not reconcile us to suffering. It asks us to play our part in the most daunting undertaking ever asked by God of mankind: to construct relationships, communities, and ultimately a society, that will become homes for the Divine presence. And that means wrestling with God and with men and refusing to give up or despair.”

Rabbi Sacks gives felicitous expression to the spirituality of relationship that is at the heart of Judaism. I believe that building good families, congregations, and communities is at the heart of what it means to be Jewish. A Jew thinks carefully about “what is good for my family?”; What is good for my shul?” “What is good for my city?” What is good for my nation or people?” What is good for the earth I live on?” Our tradition discourages self absorption. Rather it helps us to transcend ourselves.

TBS is now launching a search for a new spiritual leader. During this time people members should ask the question, “What sort of Rabbi would be good for our community?” Who will facilitate the building of relationships within families, between congregants, and between TBS members and the wider community? Who will help lead us to goodness, to realize our spiritual potential as Jews. Each person must think beyond his personal needs and pet peeves to consider the best for the whole. No Rabbi will be able to meet all the personal needs of the individuals of a congregation. However, a good rabbi will be able to lead the whole congregation as a whole to greater goodness and inspire individuals to serve the greater good. I pray that the congregation finds a “Ro’eh Neeman” a trustworthy shepherd as TBS begins its search process. . I wish the best to TBS as it moves ahead in its transition.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

PS. Please save the date of our Aufruf, on Shabbat morning 12/18/10 at 10am. We thank the Sisterhood for sponsoring the Kiddush in our honor.

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