I did an informal survey last week asking my Aish colleagues what they love about being Jewish. Many overlapping themes emerged in the replies. Here are the top 10 in no particular order.
1. The Jewish people is one big family
Wherever we go around the world, we feel that instant connection when we bagel each other. And being part of a big global family means each of us has an international network of people who genuinely care and will help each other.
"All Jews are responsible for one another (kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh)" (Sanhedrin 27b). The medrash tells the story of a passenger on a boat who takes out a drill and begins drilling a hole under his seat. The passenger next to him sees what he’s doing and says, “What on earth are you doing?!”
The man with the drill replies, “It’s none of your business. I’m only drilling under my own seat."
We’re all in the same boat. Every Jew is my responsibility; we are different parts to an organic whole.
2. Learning Torah
The Jewish people received God’s instruction manual for living, the blueprint to the universe whose wisdom and values have changed the world. We have the privilege to plumb its endless depths and refine ourselves by wrapping our heads around the source of Truth that transcends this world.
One day a week we unplug from the incessant noise and hard work of ‘doing’ to refocus on just ‘being.’ Shabbat brings an inner peace within oneself, and provides a weekly opportunity to connect and relate to family, friends and God.
4. Being Jewish means you’re a revolutionary
Starting with our forefather Abraham who went against the entire polytheistic civilization and brought monotheism to the world, Jews are part of a revolutionary movement charged to change the world. With the national mission to be a light unto nations, every Jew can lead by example and deed. We are partners with God in fixing the world.
5. Part of a chain of history that defies all odds
The Jews are one of the oldest nations in the world, and by natural law we should have ceased to exist. We have survived despite being exiled from our land – twice! – scattered across the globe and persecuted with a vengeance. This tiny nation miraculously returned to their homeland, revived their language and is making a mark on the world that far surpasses its numbers.
As Leo Nikolaivitch Tolstoy wrote in 1908:
"The Jew is the emblem of eternity. He who neither slaughter nor torture of thousands of years could destroy, he who neither fire, nor sword, nor Inquisition was able to wipe off the face of the earth. He who was the first to produce the Oracles of God. He who has been for so long the Guardian of Prophecy and has transmitted it to the rest of the world. Such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is as everlasting as Eternity itself.”
Each Jew is part of this eternal chain that includes such luminaries as Abraham, Moses, Rabbi Akiva, Maimonides, Rashi, the Vilna Gaon… We are the current link in the chain; we are writing our chapter of the continuing Jewish story.
6. Revolutionary views on women
When ancient civilization degraded women, viewing them essentially as chattel, the Torah gave women full protection of their rights in marriage, obligating the husband to honor and cherish his wife. The respect for women's internal strengths – deep insight, spirituality and intellectual prowess, steadfast commitment to Judaism's moral vision – is obvious from many biblical accounts of Jewish women. "In the merit of righteous women, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt," (Talmud, Sotah, 11b).
7. The Jewish family
The heroes of the Jewish people are the generations of committed mothers and fathers who embraced the sacred task to create a vibrant, loving home and instill Jewish values in their children. In Judaism it is the home, not the synagogue, that plays the most central role. Jewish life is built around the family coming together – to eat, to learn, to celebrate, to mourn, and most importantly to transmit the torch of our shared heritage to the next generation.
Judaism nurtures the awareness that God is actively involved in everything. There are no accidents; everything that happens to us is purposeful and for the best. We can feel secure knowing that we are wrapped in God’s loving embrace.
9. Enjoy the physical world
Jews are not ascetics; living a Jewish life requires a full immersion in the world. The challenge is to use the physical as a means to an end, elevating it towards the spiritual, and not let the physical take control of you. So enjoy that vanilla frappaccino. The Talmud teaches that in the World to Come, the Almighty will take us to task for not partaking in any permissible pleasure that was available. (Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin)
10. Action is paramount
While feeling and intent are obviously important in everything we do, the Torah is most concerned about action. Do the mitzvah, the commandment, even if your heart isn’t it. Being good is too important to be conditioned upon those rare moments of inspiration and pure motivation. That’s why Judaism’s terminology for charity is ‘tzedaka,’ which comes from the Hebrew root ‘tzedek,’ justice. The word ‘charity’ comes from the Latin word ‘caritas’ – affection, dearness, since charity connotes an act of kindness that stems from love and concern.
Tzedaka doesn’t rely on feelings of love to kick in. Do the just and right thing and write that check. And by forcing yourself to do the right thing, chances are your feelings will get in on the act.
What do you love about being Jewish? Share your answer in the comment section below.