Judaism: The Structure of Jewish Life
Rabbi Berel WeinRabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history.
This Shabat is Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat that begins for us a cycle of comfort and consolation after the weeks of sadness and mourning over the past tragedies of the Jewish people. These next seven weeks of healing comfort will lead us into the bright, new year that awaits us.
In this week’s parsha there is to be found, so to speak, the short course and synopsis of all of Judaism – the Ten Commandments, the Shema and the explanation of the Exodus from Egypt to be given to the wise son.
In a general sense, the entire structure of Torah and Jewish life is encapsulated for us in the parsha of the week. Since this Shabat is invariably also Shbabat Nachamu, it is not difficult to see that the Torah is teaching us that comfort and consolation are spiritual values and attainments and not necessarily dependent upon material wealth or worldly success.
Our society, so rich in material goods and advanced technology, suffers greatly from all sorts of mental and social dysfunction. Depression is the “black dog” (Churchill’s words for his recurring bouts of depression) that affects over a third of the citizens of the Western world! True comfort and serenity within human beings are difficult to achieve and most precarious to maintain.
The Torah in this week’s parsha, in order to help and guide us, gives us a formula to achieve this elusive goal of contentment. And, it lies within the parameters of those three principles of Jewish faith outlined in the parsha of the week.
The Ten Commandments create for us a structure of belief and morality that every individual can aspire and ascribe to, no matter how decadent the society in which one finds oneself enmeshed in. The moral strictures that protect life, property and person are the basic rules of Jewish faith and life. The dysfunction between parents and children, a 24/7 commercial world, accepted robbery and corruption as a social norm, daily murders and a completely sexually dissolute society – how can one avoid being depressed in such a milieu?
All of civilization teeters on the fulcrum of those Ten Commandments. They point the way out of the social morass that sucks us down to destruction. The Shema is the vehicle of connection of our soul with the Creator Who fashioned us and gave us life. The belief in the one and universal God Who rules and is omniscient and omnipotent is the greatest gift of the Jews to the human race. It gives us discipline and security, purity and nobility, the whiff of immortality and the security in knowing that life is never in vain.
And finally, the understanding of the uniqueness of Israel in God’s scheme of things, as represented in the story of the Exodus from Egypt, gives structure and perspective to our national and personal lives.
But it takes wisdom and knowledge – a wise son – to appreciate and treasure this memory of the distant past. Memory alone can also give us a sense of comfort and well-being and contribute towards the consolation and contentment we so ardently seek.