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What does it mean to be Jewish?

08/14/2019 08:50:41 PM


This isn’t some existential question that only became germane to our lives because of our post-shtetl, assimilated, acculturated, reality.  It’s actually a question we have been asking for millennia.  The Book of Devarim (or Deuteronomy) is built upon this investigation.  Moses, Joshua and Caleb (the only Israelites alive at this point who had experienced slavery and the Exodus) stand before the Israelites (or should we call them “B’nai Yisrael” for they are the children of those who came forth from Egypt) sharing with them a history and a vision of what it means to be… themselves.  “When you came forth out of Egypt,” “When you witnessed God’s slaying of the Egyptian army and victory over Pharaoh,” “When you walked through Yam Suf (The Red Sea)” and I have to imagine there were plenty of “millennial” Israelite hipsters asking, “By “you”, to whom are you speaking?”  We didn’t witness these things.  

And from that moment, the odyssey of building Jewish identity was born.  Let’s face it.  Our very “genesis” is steeped in a family leaving their home to go elsewhere.  And while yes, Canaan is that “elsewhere,” God’s focus for us was not the place but the act of working towards a larger goal – to be a blessing to others.  To be a blessing to others – this is our actual “address,” this is quite simply (and so complicatedly) the answer to the question above.  “What does it mean to be a Jew?”  I would argue it means to seek to be a blessing.  And as we have come to believe, “Seek and you will find.”

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780