I am a Jew because….Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro
Published in The Jewish Ledger, June 2012
Summer arrives and many of us go into “sleep” mode. Time to relax. Time, you might say, not to do what we do most of the year. Busy as we are, we want a break from the frenzy of our schedules.
While you’re finding that break, I want to share some thoughts that animate me when it comes to figuring out who I am. You might call this my credo. Especially during your summer leisure, I invite you to consider if my description of being a Jew fits yours.
Here is how Judaism touches my life. Perhaps it works this way for you as well.
I am a Jew because the Judaism I love doesn’t bully anyone. You don’t have to be Jewish in order to be “saved.” You don’t have to believe what I believe. You only need to be a decent human being.
I am a Jew because Judaism’s vision of God is also open-ended. Moses encounters God at the Burning Bush. He is launched on the central mission of his life to go free the Israelite slaves. At that pivotal moment Moses asks God for a name or a divine sign. What does the Torah offer? Ehyeh asher ehyeh…I am what I am…I shall be what I shall be.
In other words, God can’t be defined once and for all. Nobody owns God. Nobody can claim their faith is the correct and final faith.
I am a Jew because Judaism allows for a questioning, evolving, thinking, sometimes doubting faith.
There is more: The Book of Genesis teaches me to walk humbly through life because all human beings are created “b’tselem elohim – in the image of God.”
The prayerbook reminds me that the soul inside everyone of us is pure.
The rabbis of our tradition teach as follows:
“Greet every person “b’sever panim yafot - with a pleasant face.”
“Aizeh hu ashir – who is rich?” A person who is happy with his lot.”
nd Hillel says: “In a place where no one behaves like a human being, you must always strive to be a human being.”
There is something kind and gracious about Judaism. I feel it whenever we light candles to create holy time. The flames quiet, shimmering glow softens any day and gives any home a breath of eternity.
There is something reassuring when the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child holds the Torah scroll for the first time. Many times the scroll almost overpowers the 13 year old, but that’s the beauty. At a time when so much is changing in the life of this adult-to-be we affirm that he belongs. She shares in a tradition that can steady her for the rest of her life.
I am a Jew because Judaism values learning and respects memory.
I am a Jew because Judaism values community.
I also love the way Judaism encourages us to look at the world with open eyes. That’s what a blessing is all about. Baruch atta…Praised are You, God. There are so many ways to complete that sentence. One tradition suggests that a Jew ought to say 100 blessings a day, which means we Jews are on a kind of daily mission looking for whatever is good, novel, or positive in life.
Say a blessing. Give thanks. Become a thankful person. That’s what Judaism means.
If you’ll permit me the word, I think Judaism is wholesome. Its power lies in its ability to elevate us in a world that often wants to drag us down.
Think of Shabbat, which has the power to rescue us every seven days from the tyranny of fractured, pressured time.
Think of Sukkot with the fragrance of the etrog, dancing with the scrolls at Simchat Torah, the laughter at Purim. Can you conjure up that perfect image of a child struggling and then triumphing at center stage with the Seder’s Four Questions?
Most of all, for me, there is a smile surrounding my Judaism. In spite of so much adversity, somehow Judaism remains joyful and passionate. There is a vision of a better world. There is a commandment – Justice, justice shall you pursue. And there is a feeling that somehow, some way life is worth living.
That’s why I am a Jew.
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