Has the light of Judaism gone out?

Not by coincidence, a great many of our holidays occur when the moon is at, or near, its fullness.

‘NOT BY coincidence, a great many of our holidays occur when the moon is at, or near, its fullness; these include Passover.’ (photo credit: PEXELS)
‘NOT BY coincidence, a great many of our holidays occur when the moon is at, or near, its fullness; these include Passover.’
(photo credit: PEXELS)
“I, the Lord, have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and established your covenant as a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).
All eyes in Israel remain fixated on our ongoing election crisis: Will there be a new government, and if so, who will be in and who will be out? Will we have to go to yet a third round of voting, squandering another half a billion shekels of the public’s money?
This is indeed captivating, concerning and confusing to all of us. But, as Rosh Hashanah fast approaches, I am focused on another issue, no less pressing or problematic. Have we, as a people, abandoned or abdicated the prophet’s charge for us to be a light unto the nations?
This past week revealed yet another major scandal in the Jewish world. Rabbi Jonathan Skolnick, middle school principal of Judaic studies at the prestigious SAR Academy in Riverdale, New York, was arrested and charged with “producing child pornography” and allegedly seducing his students into appearing nude online by creating fictitious female Internet accounts. Even more shocking is the fact that this is the third sexual-abuse case to occur at SAR in recent years – not to mention the bizarre saga of Riverdale’s “sauna rabbi,” who took countless boys to his health club for a game of squash, followed by naked “relaxation” in the shvitz.
But this is only the latest episode tarnishing our moral image. We still are reeling from the Jeffrey Epstein outrage – which promises to vilify numerous well-known figures in the Jewish world, if and when names are named – even as the waves from Harvey Weinstein’s crimes against women continue to inundate the news. Add to the list Leon Wieseltier, Ari Shavit, Steven M. Cohen, Michael Steinhardt and others of prominence, whose peccadilloes have recently been made public, and we feel like screaming, “Please – no more sleaze!”
Of course, Jews are not the only ones to fall victim to their baser instincts, and there is an overwhelming abundance of upstanding, outstanding Jews who excel in every field, who do more than their share in making the world a better place. Countless innovations in technology, agriculture, medicine, science and social justice have Jewish names attached to them, and they bring pride to our religion and culture. And as a nation, Israel has truly exemplified purity of arms, selfless assistance to countries in need and enormous courage while under fire from despicable enemies and terrorists who incessantly and insidiously try to trap us into no-win situations.
Yet, at the same time, greed, lust and self-centered nihilism have driven more than a few of our coreligionists to engage in illegal and immoral excesses that attract headlines as flowers attract bees, or better, as other substances attract flies. In a world that, for better or worse, is fascinated – or fanatic – about what Jews do, each outrage is a heavily weighted, influential setback to our historic mission to lead the world by example.
WHILE THE majority of nations are symbolized by the sun – thus most follow a solar calendar – Judaism’s cosmic model is the moon. The moon waxes and wanes, indicating the reality that our fortunes are always in flux; at times, such as in the Holocaust, we almost disappear from sight, yet at other times we are ascendant, even magnificent in our brightness. But perhaps even more importantly, the moon reflects the light of the sun, even as we Jews are meant to reflect the light of God. It is our sacred task to represent the Creator and His truth on earth, nudging mankind to a higher purpose and a more godly character.
Not by coincidence, a great many of our holidays occur when the moon is at, or near, its fullness. These include Passover, Sukkot, Purim, Tu Bishvat and Tu Be’av. But Rosh Hashanah is the exception; it comes not at full moon but at new moon. The message here is that we are at a new beginning, a new opportunity to engage humanity, to develop and share the light derived from our Torah, which itself is called “Torah Ora” – a law of light.
Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, often envisioned the Jewish state as a moral and social beacon to the entire world, and pointed to the menorah as the quintessential symbol of our nation, branching out to spread light in every direction. Rosh Hashanah is the ideal opportunity for each and every one of us to become the Almighty’s ambassador, and to not only light up our own lives, but enlighten everyone around us.
May we be inscribed for a year of blessing, life and peace.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.