Some Old Advice for Modern Times

The WORD – 8/26/10.

Whenever we wrestle with how to live in the modern world and the Jewish world at the same time, it would be good to revisit this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, and what Moshe has to say in it.  Although he lived long ago, there is a truth to his message that still speaks to us today.

Moshe gave the Israelites some advice that would still serve us all well today.  At the beginning of Chapter 27 of Deuteronomy, Moshe tells the Israelites to do four things as they prepared to cross the Jordan River:

First, observe God’s mitzvot.  Second, build pillars of stone, cover them with plaster and inscribe them with God’s laws.  Third, take those pillars with them into the land of Israel and set them up on Mt. Eval.  Lastly, offer a sacrifice to God.

If we are willing to read these four with a little creativity, we see that they apply today as well.

First of all, we — like our ancestors — should try to implement God’s laws and traditions into our lives.  The mitzvot have defined us as a people and have given us God’s blueprint for a better life.

Second, we should give ourselves tangible reminders of God’s mitzvot. Whether we wear a Jewish star or a kippah, whether we kiss the mezuzah on the door or regularly put on tallit and tefillin, these physical objects remind us of our commitment to God.

Third, we can take our Judaism wherever we go.  Whether we are in the workplace or school, whether we are at the synagogue or the mall, the way in which we act defines us Jews.  We can go anywhere in the world and treat other human beings in a Jewish fashion.  Judaism has no borders.

Lastly, we should all take the time to develop a relationship with God. I certainly advocate coming to services and engaging God in a communal setting.  However, one can interact with God in bed at night, on a jogging path or behind the closed door of one’s office.  The important thing is to acknowledge that we are not alone as we make the decisions that shape our lives.

We may not be preparing to cross the Jordan and conquer the Land of Israel, but Moshe’s words still speak to us as they did to our ancestors. As we prepare to welcome in the New Year of 5771, let us all commit to adding traditions to our lives, to adding holy symbols to our lives, to taking our Judaism with us where we go, and to reaching out to God.



About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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