Thursday, September 18, 2014
Torah Tziva LANU Moshe- Torah as the means to bring the Jewish people together
Although Racheli Fraenkel’s new Rosh Hashana video and the Scottish election for independence, which is taking place today, seemingly have no connection, they have me thinking about peoplehood. Are we still one people? If so, based on what, and will that continue to be enough in the future?
In the video, Fraenkel speaks of the tremendous outpouring of unity and love that occurred after her son and two other yeshiva boys (ZTVKL) were kidnapped and murdered. She implores us to hold onto that feeling. Can we? Are we capable of showing unity without tragedy to connect us? While sorrow and pain can unite us, national mourning is, thankfully, too rare to serve as the glue to hold us together. Still, she is correct in asking us to remember the connection and to search for a way to keep it moving forward.
The Scottish independence movement also gives us a chance to think about what peoplehood means. The fact that a people might trade greater wealth and prosperity for full self-determination, reminds us that there are things more basic to our existence and happiness than money. Our Chachamim note this when they said that a person prefers a kav (measure of grain) that is his, more than 9 kabim given to him by (controlled by?) others. While, in some circles, nationalism has become a dirty word, in a world where individuality is forever being stressed, there is a strong desire to unite and connect with those around us, and discover what we share with others.
So where does that leave us? It has been said that we are a nation by virtue of the Torah. While there might be some truth in that, the pre-exilic books of Tanach seem to suggest that, even when the people are divorced from Torah, that a degree of national unity can exist. Additionally, in our day and many times in the past, Torah, what it means, and how it should be applied, has served to divide us. Even within religious communities, religious and theological terms, even when commonly used, seem to have very different meanings, meanings which often seem to divide and emphasize our differences, reinforcing a sense of loneliness. Israel and the communities outside of Israel seem in many ways to be moving in different directions, and friction between and within denominations show no signs of weakening. If Torah is to unite us, a different focus needs to be found.
I believe that the answer can be found within a phenomena that already exists, and is slowly gaining strength. The Torah can serve to unite us, if we stop insisting on our particular understanding of Torah to serve as the meeting point. The text of Torah, and not its particular application can be that which unites us if we will only allow it. Programs like Limmud outside of Israel, and secular and non-denominational batei midrash in Israel show that a new model of studying Torah is a real possibility. As leaders like MK Ruth Calderon continue to teach Torah in new and creative ways, and people like Rav Shmuel Pappenheim show that open dialogue, where we learn from each other with no strings attached, can take place, we are reminded of what can be.
As we approach the Yamim Noraim, the high holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, holidays that are among the most observed in one form or another by the Jewish people, let us return to the Torah which was given on Yom Kippur, so that we might merit a good judgement, and unity based on celebration rather than tragedy.