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Jews Learning From Non-Jews #439

07/12/2016 07:07:13 PM


Jews Learning From Non-Jews #439

It is health that is real wealth, and not pieces of gold and silver.
Mahatma Gandhi
"If you do not understand that our Judeo-Christian values are one of the reasons America is such a special country, you don't understand our history." 
This was one of the talking points during Thursday night's Republican debate. 
Whatever your inclinations at this fractured moment in American politics, this was a significant comment, emphasizing that, although power and influence are important factors in political life, there is a higher moral code which rests at the heart of public service and government.
American society, the candidate went on, is deeply "influenced by Judeo-Christian values that teach us to care for the less fortunate, reach out to the needy, to love our neighbor."
But is that all there is?
Is it possible within a world where universal knowledge is available at the touch of a keyboard, that wisdom from other cultures and religions can help guide Judaism towards a better and stronger future?
Jewish tradition has been blessed by countless individuals who have influenced us through their combined wisdom, insight and understanding. But in addition there is, especially today, so much we can learn and incorporate from others.
"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness," wrote the Dalai Lama.
"Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true," taught the Swami Vivekananda.
"Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow." Pope Francis recently shared.
In ancient times, new religious and philosophical ideas were discussed at campfires and along rest stops along the Silk Road which ran from China, through India to the Mediterranean.
Today, we have the information superhighway.
The topic of gaining wisdom from other cultures is not new to Judaism. In fact, in this week's Torah reading, before receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, Moses gains one of life's most important insights, from his father in law, Yitro, a non-Jew.
This week's Torah portion, titled Yitro (Jethro) opens by describing Moses sitting in his tent, providing advice and dispensing justice from dawn to dusk. 
We can assume he is neglecting his family. There is tension between him and his wife, Tziporah. Moses' eyes are blurry, his temper short. Yet Moses is driven by a sense of duty, to personally settle disputes between Israelites fairly - as only he can.
Yitro, Moses' father in law, arrives for a visit, and after observing the workaholic habits of his son-in law inquires, "What is this thing you are doing to the people?"
Moses, surprised by the criticism, earnestly informs Yitro that he is serving the people by devoting every working hour to public service.
But Yitro, unimpressed, notes, "The thing you are doing is not right. You will surely wear out yourself and these people as well." (Exodus 18:17-18)
The Torah, speaking through an "outsider," Yitro, delivers two landmark messages: that life is about balance, and that we can't do it all ourselves. 
In spite of the many talents that each of us possesses, if we want our vision and our values to both survive and endure, we must share the load with others. This involves the courage to delegate.
Not only must we work, but we must also laugh, dance, contemplate, and assume our sacred roles as parents, siblings, and friends.
Moses, our greatest teacher, grasps the wisdom of Yitro's advice, and appoints seventy magistrates to adjudicate smaller legal cases, while he commits himself developing with God with vision and mission of the Jewish people. And later in this Parashah, Moses receives the Ten Commandments.
The influence on Yitro on the future "Judeo-Christian tradition" is not lost on Torah scholar Nachum Sarna, who observes, "Before Moses departs to receive the Torah, he first learns "torah" from other nations." 
Indeed, it is inaccurate to conclude that Judaism is a self-sufficient and closed system of faith and practice. In fact, history has taught us many times that when we physically and spiritually isolate ourselves from other cultures, an often fatal divide emerges between us and the peoples of the world.
Tonight, our Limud Hebrew School will offer a Shabbat drum circle. The drum circle was inspired by the African tradition.
We are currently discussing with the Glen Cove Baptist Church the idea of a God Jam, involving the sharing of sacred music.
It is perhaps no accident that one of the fastest growing wings of Judaism is the Jewbu movement, which combines Jewish tradition with eastern spiritual and mediation practices.
The great teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z'l') taught that each religion on this earth has its own purpose and orientation. And when these faiths and orientations work in harmony, the doors to universal peace open.
Indeed, Jews cannot live in complete isolation. As Rabbi Joshua Kulp, head of the Conservative movement's Jerusalem Yeshiva wrote this week, "We are a particular people, but our roots are universal."
As we learn from this week's Torah portion and from our greatest teacher Moses, learning sacred lessons from others can only make us stronger.
The great Talmudic teacher Ben Azzai taught two thousand years ago, based on Genesis 5:1 that  "We are all descendants of Adam."
His message, and the message of Yitro reminds us that we have much to learn from others.
Let us reflect upon this week's Torah reading, which teaches us that Judaism can become even stronger if we are prepared to learn from our fellow human beings.
Moses did it. So can we.
Shabbat shalom, v'kol tuv (with all goodness)
Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780