Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
All the most contentious questions of modern Jewish life ultimately boil down to questions of continuity: intermarriage, who is a Jew, and so on.
But why should we care? What does it matter if I get something out of being a Jew, whether my children do as well? When I‘ve asked people from different backgrounds, one might think that I would get very different answers, but in fact, they seem to boil down to a rather similar idea.
In traditional circles, the answer tends to be a variety of “because God wants it,” but when pressed (why does God want it?), the responses seem to reduce to the idea that we as a people have a mission to fulfill, and without continuity, we won’t be able to fulfill that mission. In some less traditional circles, the response may be that Jews are under the obligation to do Tikkun Olam, which is another way of saying that we have the mission to perfect the world. And across orientations, even among many secular folks, many people answer that over centuries, as a people we have developed wisdom, and because that wisdom comes from a particular perspective, as a group, we can enrich the wisdoms of the world – but only if we are able to access that wisdom and continue to have a version of that perspective as our own.
It should be no great surprise to hear that what speaks to people, across denominations, is that Judaism represents meaning: Judaism offers us a way to structure our duties to others – God, the world, history –and whether that mission and meaning come from a divine source, or a human source, or a combination of the two, it offers us profundity over triviality, obligation over selfishness, and joy over frivolity.
As we begin the month of Elul, the time when we take account of our hearts, our actions and our responsibilities, it is worth considering that whatever we believe the source of meaning to be, it comes not through pursuing the desires of our hearts and eyes, but through seeking out what is larger than ourselves and contributing to it.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are sometimes overwhelming. Judgment, forgiveness, sin and repentance are all such huge concepts. But if we think of it as a snooze button on an alarm clock instead, a short breather as we struggle to become fully conscious so that we can get started on the work ahead of us this day, then the mission – the work of Judaism – is within the grasp of any of us.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.
Pronounced: yohm KIPP-er, also yohm kee-PORE, Origin: Hebrew, The Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and, with Rosh Hashanah, one of the High Holidays.