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Judaism: Not That Complicated #745

09/23/2022 05:08:37 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Nitzvavim:"God has put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, so that you and your offspring will truly live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Judaism: Not That Complicated


My mentor, Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz of blessed memory, would say, “Judaism is the perfect religion ruined only by the people who practice it.”

How complicated we make religion.

Although religious rituals elevate us on many levels, I believe that when they are not explained, or when they are practiced with a sense of obligation rather than joy, we are missing the point.”

Psalm 100:2 reminds us to "Serve God with Joy." So, how are we doing?

Two thousand years ago, our Sages were concerned that Judaism was above the grasp of many of its followers. Some feared that Judaism’s rules, rites and rituals had separated the public from its core values.

Two thousand years ago, the Talmud spoke about Jews’ “diminishing observance,” so they devised an answer to the question, “What does God truly want of us?” 

And, quoting the prophet Micah, they answered: “To do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Rabbis became concerned that on Yom Kippur, too many were focusing inward, rather than extending outward. So, they inserted a reading from the Prophet Isaiah, reminding us that atonement involves more than fasting.

Rather, God wants us to “feed the hungry, take in the homelessness and clothe the naked.”

Simple, direct lessons within Judaism’s complex dynamics.

And where does this inspiration come from? In part, I believe it is rooted in this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim ("You stand this day"), as Moses – toward the end of his life – continues instructing the Israelites.

He gathers the nation, and offers two simple, but profound, statements that address, in principle, the ultimate accessibility of God.

Moses says, “The instruction I enjoin upon you today is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach…No, the thing is very close to you, in mouth and in your heart to observe it.”

Moses adds that God’s truth is not hidden atop some mountain or across the sea. Indeed, in our hearts, we know what is right and what is wrong.

Are we making religion too complex? Are too many using God to support their religious or political agendas? Is that what the commandment of “taking God’s name in vain” truly mean?”

Rabbi Shais Taub, notes, “God becomes a dirty word when someone uses their own selfish agenda and then puts their religious stamp of approval on it, and now there is nothing you can tell them.”

Instead, we should ask, as we assess our lives and our relationship with God, “Is it selfish or selfless…does it draw you inward or does it bring you outward?”

He adds that when we perform acts of kindness because it’s the right thing to do, rather than getting something personally out of it, “then that’s God.”

These are important concepts as we begin our yearly 10-day period of personal reflection.

Another year has passed. We’ve been occupied with making a living, raising children, surviving Covid.

These are all difficult and energy-consuming daily tasks, but this is the time of the year when we lift our foot from the gas pedal and ask, “Where are we headed?”

Is Rosh Hashanah a burden? For some, perhaps. But for those who choose, it is a gift, an opportunity, to elevate our lives.

What debts are we holding on to? Who are we imprisoning by refusing to forgive? Is the grudge worth it?

Is this how we want to live?

Moses, in this week’s Torah portion, says it in simple terms: “There are choices we can make.”

“God,” he says, has “put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, so that you and your offspring will truly live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

These are, perhaps, my two favorite words in the Torah: “Choose life.”

Will we continue to hang on to things that take up precious space in our souls, with no possibility of resolution?

And, what kind of example are we setting for our “offspring?”

These central questions remain at the heart of the 10-day period we are about to enter. Are we prepared to clear some soul space for goodness, kindness, optimism - and ultimately God - to enter?

Moses’ words inspire us to consider that the way we approach life rests in our hands and within the choices we make.

Which will we choose this year, the “same old, same old” or new possibilities?

Let us combine the sweetness of the season, with our desire to make our lives into something better.

In this week’s parashah, Moses provides some core teachings, which - through hardship, persecution and travail - have sustained the Jewish people through thousands of years.

Moses tells us to, “Choose life.”

When we really think about our relationships with our families and friends - and ultimately with God - life is ultimately is about choice and attitude.

Indeed, according to Moses’ teaching, life and our relationship with God, are not that baffling at all.

Shabbat Shalom, Shannah Tovah.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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