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Who Inspired Your Judaism? #685

07/23/2021 06:35:00 PM

Jul23

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

“Teach these words to your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:7

Who Inspired Your Judaism?

Stop and think for a moment. Who, in your past, taught you the most about being Jewish?

Was it a parent, grandparent, teacher, rabbi, cantor, friend or even a stranger?

And what was the greatest lesson that person taught you that endures to this day?

If my guess is correct, that person did not necessarily teach you a bible quote or point to some story in the Torah.

Chances are they inspired you by modeling kindness and compassion, and, perhaps, by teaching you that Judaism is best defined by how we treat each other every day.

This is a big week in our reading of the Torah. This Shabbat begins a seven-week journey from the holy day of Tisha B’Av — when we remember many incidents of pain and suffering within in our history — to the start of Rosh Hashanah — when we ask God to look for the best in us — as we strive to turn ourselves into someone better.

This week in synagogue, we will read the parashah entitled Va’etchanan. Some have nicknamed it the “Little Torah.” Contained within are two of the most landmark readings in our tradition — the Ten Commandments and Shema Yisrael.

The Ten Commandments are legendary, forming the basis of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

A few verses later, we utter the words that, I believe, add an additional layer to the commandments: Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad“Hear oh Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One.”

When I recite those words, I am moved by thoughts of connectivity. They inspire me to consider that every aspect of our lives is entwined: Family, friends and neighbors, our community, the environment, this world, the world of souls. God. We are one.

Where did I learn about the basic Judaic concepts of compassion and connectivity? Was it from a scroll or tablet?

No, I learned my Judaism from my parents and grandparents.

My mother delivered meals on behalf of Meals on Wheels, until as she was over 80, when it occurred to her that she was older than many who she served.

My father’s passion for prayer and Jewish institutions inspired me in some way to become a rabbi.

My grandparents taught me the value of balancing religious tradition with the need to become personally involved in the healing of the world.

Within the Shema prayer, the Torah instructs us with a remarkable teaching, which has sustained the Jewish people for thousands of years. It commands us to:

“Teach these words to your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:7

I’ve often wondered about what this instruction truly means. What kind of words is the Torah talking about?

Did that inspirational person in your life remind you not to murder or steal, or honor marital fidelity? Perhaps, but there was so much more.

When we think of these role models — most of whom could not recite a Bible verse or were not seated in synagogue every week — we probably remember more the sparkle in their eyes and unbridled joy, as they held us tight or modeled Jewish values by example.

It is the time when you watched them give a few dollars to a homeless person, or volunteer at the synagogue or other organization, or gently care for a suffering friend; the moment when you, together with your family, joyously chanted the Dayenu — regardless of how much more of the Passover Seder you read.

Our tradition tells us there were two Torahs given on Mount Sinai. One was written — the hard copy — and other was oral.

It doesn’t say anywhere in the Torah that you should teach your child to be mensch. It is something we learned from our parents and grandparents.

Our parents and grandparents taught us that all human beings are created equal. They taught us to be kind, to share our toys, to have a Tzedakah box in our room to hold our pennies.

They taught us to be loving, optimistic and resilient; to be considerate and charitable. To place ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Think of someone who taught you these values as you were growing up. I believe those are the values that the Torah is talking about.

Our tradition teaches that, “Moses received Torah from Sinai.” (Pirkei Avot 1:1) It does not say, “the Torah,” for that would mean that the Torah is fixed. Rather, it says, “Torah” or “teaching,” and it is forever changing.

The Torah does not tell us not to bully or gossip on the Internet.

It does not say, anywhere, that a person who does not look, pray or love like us is somehow lesser.

But these are the values that, hopefully, we are teaching to our children.

So, this week, as we read the Shema Yisrael, let us be inspired to teach more than words etched in stone.

Rather, let us be inspired by words and acts of kindness. Let us be role models, who put those words into action.

For when we teach “these words” to our children, we guide them, and perhaps even remind ourselves, that when we “love the Lord our God with all our hearts,” we also love those sparks of God who surround us.

Our fellow human beings.

The investment in optimism and a better world has sustained the Jewish people from generation to generation.

We do it through our daily actions, the Mitzvot we perform — and perhaps most importantly — within the seeds of hope and kindness, which we plant in our children.

It is a mission that will live as long as we do.

Our children’s eyes and ears are always open. Perhaps that is why each of us is commanded to both teach and listen.

Just as the way the person in our past inspired us, we are charged to be that person for those who look to us for guidance.

Within this often divided and frustrating world, it is sometimes hard to maintain a soft and optimistic heart.

It is why, perhaps, the Shema Yisrael reminds us to listen not just with our ears, but also with our hearts.

For, indeed, those messages of the heart will carry us and our children into the future.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

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Tue, July 5 2022 6 Tammuz 5782