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Should We Feel "Sub-Jewish? #442

07/12/2016 07:10:16 PM

Jul12

Should We Feel "Sub-Jewish? #442

Recently, while attending a meeting of Jewish clergy, an Orthodox rabbi shared with me the story of his brother, who took great pride in announcing that every Saturday morning, he cooked up a big plate of bacon and feasted on it at the breakfast table.
 
"What do you think about that?" challenged the brother.
 
"Well, let me ask you," replied the rabbi. "Do you eat bacon any other day of the week?"
 
"No," responded the brother. "Just on Saturday mornings. I hate organized religion so much that rather than go to Temple, I eat my bacon every Saturday with great joy. So there!"
 
The rabbi smiled and touched his brother on the shoulder and answered, "I think that's great."
 
"Huh?" replied the brother in amazement.
 
"Absolutely," said the rabbi. "I celebrate the Sabbath my way, and you celebrate it your way. Shabbat Shalom!"
 
However unkosher, I love this story, because it reminds me that the Jewish narrative in 2016 is not so much about what we don't do, but rather the new and challenging ways so many Jews are expressing their Judaism.
 
Let's be honest. When many enter a synagogue for regular services or for a special occasion, there is often a feeling of hesitation or apprehension.
 
OMG. Will the rabbi ask me to do something? I can't read Hebrew. I don't observe most of the Jewish holidays. I'm not even sure that I believe in God.
 
You are not alone.
 
The Cantor and I often talk about how unfair it is that many Jews these days feel that they are "sub-Jewish." As if one's Jewish identity is defined by how times a year they attend services and recite fixed prayers from a book.
 
I would argue that the majority of Judaism occurs outside the synagogue. What are the values we teach our children and grandchildren? How do we model good behavior in our social lives, at work, and in our interactions with strangers? 

Communal prayer and upholding traditions are important, but being Jewish these days can mean so much more. It means being a good human being, and partnering with others, and with God to heal this broken world.
 
Many of our congregants and their friends volunteer significant time assisting the local homeless shelter and the food bank among other important causes. God smiles, no matter where this occurs.
 
No Jew is more or less Jewish. No one is judged higher or lower. Everyone possesses a unique God spark within them. Each has their skill and passion to contribute.
 
There is a model for this, and it emanates from this week's Torah portion. The Parashah of the week, Ki Tissa, is famous for its description of the Golden Calf incident, where the Israelites, tired of waiting for Moses to return from Mount Sinai, melt down their gold and produce a material god to worship.
 
But before that happens, God makes a curious request of Moses. He's told to conduct a census. But rather than count heads, God demands that every Jew come forward and contribute a half-shekel.
 
The half-shekel is an interesting amount. Today there is little we can do with half of a dollar bill; likewise, half a shekel did not carry much weight in the desert.
 
But by combining one with another, the half shekel could make a whole.
 
The Torah emphasizes that whether they were rich or poor, there was a requirement to contribute: "The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel..." (Exodus 30:15)
 
In other words, every Israelite counted. That model has since been enhanced and expanded. Today, both men and women contribute on an equal basis. There was no value judgement laid down in the Torah. Back then, and today, the Torah encourages parity.
 
It does not differentiate whether you are rich or poor, observant or not observant, whether you express your Judaism as a musician, baker, builder, Torah reader, donor, recipient, kosher, non-Kosher-whether you observe the Sabbath in a synagogue or in front of a plate of bacon. Each person has a right to put their two cents in -- to contribute.
 
Thriving synagogues understand that it is the role of clergy and their supporting volunteers to open as many windows into Judaism as possible.
 
Our mission statement states that CTI is a pluralistic congregation embracing "those who believe, those who don't believe, and those who aren't sure."
 
It adopts that model in part from this week's Torah reading, which inspires us to remember, no matter what your observance, your level of Hebrew, your prayer habits, or your way of expressing your Judaism - that by combining our half-shekels, we can create sacred communities, and a better world.
 
It is the rabbi's job to educate. To teach Judaism's values, laws, morality, tradition, laws, and customs. But from there, every person may choose to express and practice with a tremendous degree of individuality.
 
Together we form one. As long as we are on this sacred Jewish journey to heal this broken world, as long as we are in the game, as long as we contribute through our thoughts and actions, no Jew is "sub-Jewish," and none should ever feel that way.
 
Take your half-shekel, and contribute it proudly.
 
The Torah teaches that each one of us matters. And no matter how you express it, you count.
 
Shabbat shalom, V'kol tuv (with all goodness)
 
Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780