To Be A Jew

There are so many attempts to define what it means to be a Jew. Is it genetic? Consensual? Opting-in? Participatory-Only? Are you a Jew because you eat bagels and cream cheese, or, as we’re in the midst of Shavuot thoughts, cheesecake? Do you experience being a Jew by studying Torah? By acting “ethically” (whatever that might mean)? Does not driving a car on Saturday qualify? Do you need to wear the uniform of a black suit and an oversize hat? Is daily prayer non-negotiable? Can watching tv or going to movies disbar you? What about on Saturday? Are we a people, a race, a religion, a country?

These are all old questions, addressed, answered and re-answered countless times.

As Shavuot approaches this year, my working definition is that to be is Jew is to be married to God (not in the same sense, of course as Catholic nuns and priests who renounce marriage with other humans, but rather, in the sense that applies to our people it’s a matter of “as above, so below”–our “Olam HaZeh” (this world) lives mirroring the reality of the higher realms). Of course, there is the Aggadata that God held the mountain, Har Sinai, over our heads, as a Chuppah when giving us the Torah (actually the pshat (simple meaning) of the story is a little less romantic–He gave us the choice to accept the Torah, in which case the mountain was, indeed, a Chuppah, but if we refused we’d be buried beneath it. (This image of coercion, combined with our laws of relationships, removes, as it were, God’s option of ever divorcing us!)). And, as the second chapter of Hosea (2:21-22) has God saying to us, “And I will wed you forever……”

Of course, in our day, the concept of eternal marriage and commitment sounds to many of us as fantasy. But even in the “good old days” when divorce was the exception rather than the rule, an eternally ideal marriage was never on the menu. Since, by definition, we humans are not perfect and complete within ourselves, we  have, and always will have, needs. No matter how loving one or both of a couple are, the combined individual needs, no matter how small they might theoretically be, doesn’t allow us to be permanent givers, concerned only with our mate’s happiness and not with our own. As humans, everything will be flawed and the best we can do is to minimize those flaws.

A Jew’s marriage with The Creator, on the other hand, is of an entirely different order. God is, by definition, complete within Himself, lacking nothing. In His simple Unity as One Who creates and creates for the benefit of others, His “Agenda” is to fill each of us with precisely what we individually need, both in terms of quality and quantity. God is never “in competition” with us over any supposedly “rare” resource since, to God, the Creator and Source of All, not only has no needs nor desires for any”things”, but how could any conceivable resource possibly be “rare” to Him?

Since, in His Wisdom, He understands that a necessary component for human satisfaction is a sense of independence, He provides a modality for us to earn our satisfaction rather than giving it to us without any effort on our part, accompanied by the unavoidable shame of feeling undeserving. This “modality” the Torah, both guides us, step-by-step, to earning fulfillment, and is, itself, that fulfillment.

The Ketubah (the marriage contract), with which The Almighty betroths each of us as individual elements of His beloved, in other words, the Torah, is an ingenious “interface” in which He embeds those aspects of Himself that he gives us the potential to experience, bond (devekut) and interact with, the 613 mitzvot (as well as the historical and moral tales of our ancestors). Moreover, he creates each of us with an analogous structure that allows us, by following these mitzvot-directions, to fully engage with the 613-faceted interface to Him that He provided.

Imagine an earthly marriage where not only can good intentions be assumed, but where an opportunity to express our love and to deepen our connection with our lover is provided every single instant! Here is that marriage where our Lover never puts Himself before our needs, where counsel and encouragement and explicit instructions are lovingly offered every moment. (By the way, this is a different approach to the multitude of halachot–rather than being intrusive and controlling, they keep an always-open door for us.)

Just as with a material marriage, there is both much to prepare in advance, and also much to review and revisit after experiencing such an intensely transforming moment. In addition to the fellowship, the happiness and, yes, the cheesecake, may we all experience, and continue to experience the primal transformation that is Shavuot.

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12 Responses to To Be A Jew

  1. Jacques Ruda says:

    shabbat shalom and chag someach

  2. Rebecca Newman says:

    Yasher koach hag Sameach 🎉

  3. Mr. Cohen says:

    Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz said:

    “Why is Israel singled out for super-scrutiny and double-standard criticism, expected to maintain a level of moral behavior not demanded of anyone else?”

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz (introduction chapter, page 4) published in year 1991 by Little Brown and Company ISBN: 9780316181372 ISBN: 0316181374

    Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz said:

    “We need a new term to describe this phenomenon, this double-standard, this super-scrutiny of things Jewish, this singling out of Israel.”

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz (chapter 4, page 121) published in year 1991 by Little Brown and Company ISBN: 9780316181372 ISBN: 0316181374

  4. Mr. Cohen says:

    Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz said:

    “When Jews complain about anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism,
    they are often made to feel that they are oversensitive.”

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz (chapter 3, page 83) published in year 1991 by Little Brown and Company ISBN: 9780316181372 ISBN: 0316181374

  5. Mr. Cohen says:

    Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz said:

    “There is yet a third strain of the current virus of anti-Semitism, this one even more difficult to diagnose. Its danger lies in its subtlety, its pervasiveness, and its acceptability at all levels of our society. This is a phenomenon familiar to all of us, yet difficult to articulate and expose: the singling out of Jewish institutions and especially Israel for special scrutiny, and the application of a double-standard to Jewish things and persons.

    This phenomenon, which currently has no accepted name, assumes a variety of forms, but its most obvious manifestation is the special and often gloating attention paid by the media, [and] by intellectuals, and by the government to any deviation by Israel, no matter how trivial, from the highest norms of humans rights, civility, and sacrifice.

    Though Israel may be deserving of criticism, what is missing is the comparable criticism of equal or greater violations by other countries and other groups. This constant, often legitimate criticism of Israel for every one of it deviations, when coupled with the absence of legitimate criticism of others, creates the impression currently prevalent on university campuses and in the press that Israel is among the worst rights violators in the world.

    We have all heard that phrase repeated many times. It is not true, but if it is repeated often enough, it takes on a reality of its own.”

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz (chapter 4, page 119) published in year 1991 by Little Brown and Company ISBN: 9780316181372 ISBN: 0316181374

  6. Mr. Cohen says:

    Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz said:

    “But more always seems to be demanded of the Jewish nation and of the Jewish people than of others. Jews, unlike other groups, are expected to be in the forefront of defending the rights of their sworn enemies.”

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz (chapter 5, page 170) published in year 1991 by Little Brown and Company ISBN: 9780316181372 ISBN: 0316181374

  7. Mr. Cohen says:

    Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz said:

    “It is virtually impossible to get the United Nations to condemn any Arab terrorist group or state for any attack on Israel or Jewish institutions. Yet there is an eagerness to condemn Israel, whether Israel is right or wrong.”

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz (chapter 7, page 225) published in year 1991 by Little Brown and Company ISBN: 9780316181372 ISBN: 0316181374

  8. Mr. Cohen says:

    Former CIA officer:
    Stop calling Islam a ‘religion of peace’

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