This essay concludes this miniseries, on Jewish identity, offered up by this blog.
These posts have constituted a mere amuse bouche on the topic. Hopefully, they have piqued your interest on this matter as well as have given you ideas about directions you might yet more fully explore. Next week, this blog will return to its regular schedule of freestanding themes.
In the posts “Trying to Live between Heaven and Earth,” “So Much Clap Trap,” “Common Misperceptions,” “Jeans” “Media Savvy: the Fires of Rhetoric” and “Blaring among the Mustards,” notions of intrapersonal, interpersonal, rhetorical and mediated realizations of Jewishness were discussed as well as was the worthlessness of seeking or abiding by unsolicited, external assessments of the same. Hashem Defines our place in the tribe by dint of birthing us Jewish. Beyond that fact, our unrequited longings for belongingness must be worked out on a case by case, personal basis.
More specifically, by simply accepting our evolving, often difficult, always wondrous, role in creation, we Jews are capable of empowering ourselves to perceive, and to live from, a starting point of great personal verity. Likewise, we are able to enlighten others, among us, about the importance of honoring the sacredness of each and every member of our tribe. We can move forward in our understandings and in our actualization of our understandings not because we are, or ought to be, possessed of some particular, indefatigable human quality, but because our kind is planted in the house of G-d. Simply, we aspire to virtue because we come into this world as holy beings.
This vitality can not be traded. It ought not to be hidden. Further, it is a shame if it is compromised by our rubricing of or by other folks’ rubricing of it. Our job is Torah and mitzvot, not adjudication, not people pleasing, not straying, by any manner of kowtowing, to imagined strictures invented by ourselves or by others.
Every one of us has the potentialto make our lives into an altar to The Almighty and to use our thoughts, words and deeds to glorify His Name. Every one of us will necessarily fail in the process, yet must, even so, proceed in this way. We learn more from brushing ourselves off when we falter than from rising in a linear fashion. The critical enhancements, which can be gained from personal regression, include more tolerance, more compassion, and an increased thirst for unity. In other words, we have to reach for moral heights, while expecting, concomitantly, that the very process that raises us will subdue us and that the resulting containment, itself, will build us up.
Accordingly, it is no accident that our people’s route from Egypt to the Holy Land is recorded as a series of starts and stops. We might ascend and we might even merit aiding others in their aliyot, but we can not do so without wavering. The path to personal and to tribal identity is bent with a great variety of tribulations.
Hence, the measure of who is a Jew is not made by the determination of whether or not one’s life is filled with rebbes, with pulpit rabbis, and with other forms of Talmidim chachamin. This calculation is not made by the determination of whether it is better to sponga sugary drinks off of diningroom tiles in Har Nof, eat stone-oven baked challah in Afula, and to hear shiurim in Russian and in Farsi-accented Hebrew in Ashdod, rather than to clean the counters for Shabbot while glancing out a Brighton Beach window, baking challot in a modern oven in Golders Green or preparing for Pesach while shopping in a market filled with the sounds of IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, Afrikaans, and Sepedi in Johannesburg.
Our generation can not dig the wells that our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov dug, nor can we bring back the manna of our predecessors, who had wandered the Sinai. We are not the giants known as “Hillel” or as “Shemi” nor can we fully grasp the alien power “Bilaam,” to whom Hashem, Himself showed kindness. Each of us is merely and irreplaceably a segment of a very long, contiguous chain. That is, the computation of who is a Jew is a dynamic quality, gauged in ethereal vessels, whose calibrations, rightfully, are beyond our understanding.
Our task, simply, is to make our lives into offerings for the quickening of Moshiach’s arrival, i.e. to use our days and nights to strive toward satisfying Ha Kodesh Baruch Hu. To act otherwise, to embrace self, peer, or cultural assessments of our worth is to toss aside our most valuable attribute and to waste our fundamental resources.
If you hear me, while stuck in traffic in Mea Shearim, toning down the volume on my Israeli folk music CDs, in deference to that community’s elevation, if you see me making due without a pillow for my worn sofa or without a throw rug for my salon floor so that my resources can be spent on charity, on hospitality and on other forms of chesed, if you witness me burgeoning with tear-felt happiness at someone else’s chuppah, or crying, until nothing more can be expressed, at a lavaya, or if you notice me puffing, huffing and otherwise fretting until I discover “just the right word” for a poem about the Holy Land, you will know, that in my reality, I am celebrating my being a Jew.