Religion has two faces. One face is that of saintliness, idealism, holiness and selflessness. But the other face is one of hatred, cruelty, selfishness and egotism. A Talmudic passage (Shabbat 89a-b) links the word Sinai with the word Sinah—hatred. Those who emulate the ideals of Sinai are those who reflect the beautiful face of religion. Those who breach those ideals fall into the trap of Sinah, becoming hateful and jealous.
Angel for Shabbat
To focus exclusively on the universal aspects of Judaism, though central to Judaism’s mission, is to do a disservice not only to the Jewish tradition, but all of humanity. Without a real foundation in its particular mission in the world, Judaism will struggle to contribute universally. Similarly, to focus exclusively on the particularistic aspects of Judaism corrupts its very purpose within humanity.
Careful observance of the rules and regulations is important; but this does not in itself make us into religious people. Religiosity entails a philosophic awareness of the presence of God in our lives, and a commitment to live righteous, compassionate and moral lives.
The "diagnosis" is: a loss of the holy. The "cure" is: to take Judaism more seriously, to reconnect with the Almighty, to infuse life with the fulness of Torah learning and observance. We don't want "gimmicks" or short-term and short-sighted suggestions that aim at inflating our egos; we want serious, long-term, visionary suggestions that aim at sustaining our souls and our spirits.
Many people feel the need to be noticed. They dye their hair neon green, or they wear immodest clothing, or they say things that are intended to shock. They will do anything to keep the limelight focused on themselves: they will tell a stream of jokes, they will speak without listening to others, they will take “selfies” and send them to anyone and everyone they can think of. The message they convey is: NOTICE ME.
Whatever kind of work we do, we can see it as a job, or a career--or a calling. A shift in vision, a shift in attitude--and we can become different and better and happier people.
Albert Einstein observed: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” We should be grateful for the luxury of being bored. We should seek opportunities to have “nothing to do.” We should find the time to un-plug from our machines and our phones and…just be.
As we celebrate the Shavuoth festival commemorating the Revelation at Mount Sinai, it would be appropriate for us to recall the symbolic virtues of Mount Sinai—humility, awareness of limitations, openness to new and unique revelation.Although Shavuoth will be different this year due to the covid 19 pandemic, we pray that the festival will imbue us with hope for the future, with blessings of good health and happiness.
Can one person really make a difference? The surprising anwer is: Yes. If that person understands his/her mission and has the courage to strive to achieve it, the answer is: Yes. If that person recognizes that spiritual greatness can be achieved through idealism, kindness, compassion and service to others, the answer is: Yes. If that person seeks righteousness and walks humbly with God, the answer is: Yes.
In 1730, Congregation Shearith Israel of New York City dedicated its first synagogue building—the first synagogue building erected in North America—on the seventh day of Passover. This event would have attracted little notice from the great Jewish communities of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Yet, Shearith Israel laid the foundation for the great American Jewish community.