I understand my responsibilities as a rabbi in many different ways. There is the teacher, the interpreter, the pastor, the communal representative, the administrator, etc. After nearly thirty three years in the rabbinate, I could write about this for a long time! But one of the most fundamental responsibilities I hold, is that I see myself as having the challenge of keeping an age-old tradition alive from this generation to the next. Every generation has its own unique challenges.
And every generation also has some similar challenges. As I watched parents and children at our Purim celebration this week, I had a thought that I want to share. I saw families – particularly little children – truly having fun. There was lots to do here. There was music, there was entertainment, and there was good food. And I thought about how providing these experiences is so important in creating identity and attachment to this community and to Jewish life. But I also know that every day is not Purim. And I began to think about how we create attachment, and how we pass on identity and meaning.
I have realized for a long time that Jewish life needs to be compelling. It needs to be exciting. It needs to be meaningful in a contemporary context as much as it is traditionally and historically. And so, we make our programs and schools as attractive as possible.
This week in the Torah we are reading Parshat Tzav. Tzav means command. And the word tzav is at the root of the word mitzvah. We know that a mitzvah is more than a good deed; mitzvah is an obligation. But obligation is a more difficult concept to internalize, particularly in our world which emphasizes individual choice and freedom. And so I wonder about this in terms of the next generation of our people.
How do we create a sense of obligation? I think there are a number of ways. One is through the discipline of regular and repeated activities. Excuse the simplicity of this analogy: I work out in a gym. And when I do it day after day, I begin to feel it is my obligation to do so. I began with a choice, but I continue with a sense that I am compelled to do this.
I think there is a similar dimension in our religious lives. If we engage now and then it may be good, but this serious venture of Jewish living is a call for more than an occasional visit. It is a call for ongoing and regular learning, prayer, and acts of kindness. And for these we shouldn’t be visitors, but regulars. And in the regularity we begin to feel the call of obligation. And in the obligation we begin to understand the responsibility. It attaches us to a people and roots us in a particular history. It makes values real and opens up a spiritual space.
This is a great challenge in our lives which are so busy and where there are so many options and distractions. But choosing to enter and engage regularly is an essential part of our Jewish lives and necessary for its continuity. More than choice, we have received a responsibility. It is something for us to talk about and think about…
See you in shul.