Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Mazel Tov to my sister! – originally posted 20 July 2007

Mazel Tov to my sister and her family! At 8Am this morning, a new baby girl was added to the family! Baruch Hashem the baby and mother are fine and doing well.

My uncle is a paediatrician, and is used by most of us for our babies. It seems obvious, after all, he is considered one of the top paediatricians in the country! Apparently he looked at the baby and remarked “She looks just like Gagga”- his late mother, whose death I wrote off a short while ago. So the cycle of life continues.

This got me thinking, about continuity and Jewish continuity in particular. Its so easy to look back over Jewish history and see the massacres, the pogroms, expulsions, the oppression; but how often do we look back and just see the simple love? The love that kept families together, the love that people felt for their faith, sticking to what they loved when it would have been so much easier to just walk out the ghetto walls and join the non-Jewish society around them. How often in Jewish history has it happened that as we became propserous, we started abandoning the ways of the Torah- only to return tou our first love, the Torah and Hashem, when times were hardest?

Perhaps for the first time in history we are seeing a return to Torah when we are not threatened. The kiruv movement is huge, massive numbers of people becoming baalei teshuva. In my own family it is easy to see- myself and my sister have both become observant. I started about fifteen years ago, my sister two years ago. Now my younger brother is starting- attending regular gemora shiurim (though he has yet to take the plunge to being shomrei shabbos). It is not uncommon to see this movement to an observant lifestyle in the Johannesburg community- most shuls are filling up with baalei teshuvah.

It is also Jewish continuity that is the focus of Sefer Devarim. It is a summary- going through the journeys, the laws and how to live and behave as a Jew. And when does this summary get made? On the eve of the Jews leaving the desert to go into the land. Here they stand- a people that has spent fourty years wandering- being protected from the elements, being provided with water and food, having the very path in front of them eased- all miraculously by God. Their focus has been the Torah, learning to be Jews, to live as Jews, to prepare for the holy task ahead of them. After 40 years of this, Moses sees a need to lecture them on Judaism and correct behaviour?

Perhaps the fact that for 40 years they had no trouble, that they were surrounded by the shechina at all times, that miracles that were obvious and continusly present was a problem in itself. It was easy- anyone can be good and do what they have to do when their are no challenges. Problems start happening when you are challenged, when the outside factors start impinging and tempting you away from the correct path. For 40 years they were not challenged, the path was obvious and temptations few. Now, on the eve of entering the land, the challenges are starting. No longer are they free to engage in a life of studying Torah and not worry about their daily sustenance. From this point on they have to fight for their needs- be it in wars against the local tribes to claim the land promised to them by God, or against the elements in building houses, plowing the fields, tending orchards and looking after their flocks. So as they move from their idyllic state to one of challenge, Moses reminds them of what they have undertaken to do- that the challenges are not just the new physical ones, but the spiritual ones set by God.

So why did I go on about the chozeret beteshuvah movement? To me, it is manifested in Moses desire to ensure continuity, to make sure people remember the spiritual as well as the physical. In times of trouble and despair, people seem to naturally move to God, to look for his support and solace. In times of plenty and ease, they drift away. The desert was easy- it may have been a time of ease and plenty- but their were few spiritual challenges to tempt the people away. They were surrounded by God, they were fed, clothed and given their every need by God, and they were isolated from the rest of the world- no temptation to go chasing after other Gods. Now, they loose that idyllic state- and Moses foresees the times when they will be tempted away from God- the times when they will have lives of ease, when the path of wanting to be accepted by everyone else, to be the same, will be tempting- and thus, throughout sefer Devarim he teaches- THIS is God’s law, THIS is the only way to go. Do not be tempted- remember God’s words for blessings, do not forget them and be cursed; Jewish continuity is through the word of God, not through being accepted and becoming just another nation.

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June 24, 2008 - Posted by | Other Torah | ,

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