Weepers of the Faith by Aliza Davidovit
Many holy books lay open before me. My old friends, we have missed each other. The ancient teachings held me spellbound me as the words seemed to lift from the pages and enwrap me like a cyclone pulling me into the vortex of their depths offering wisdom and insight to stir my soul. But being a writer who has put down her pen for too long--since my mother took ill--nothing I read was able to inspire the first few words to begin this article. Like my mother, I too seemed to be half-paralyzed, at least scripturally.
I plucked myself from the depths, put my books aside momentarily and checked in on my mother to see how she was enjoying the movie I had rented for her. Suddenly, the title of the film unfurled the path that my words would follow. It was titled “Born Yesterday.” In it a loud-mouthed ill-bred gangster hires a journalist to serve as a tutor for his ditzy girlfriend to “smarten her up,” to help her better fit into the upper echelons he himself seeks to enter only to later corrupt. But the ironic twist of the tale is she turns out to be quite the student whose mind is opened up and ethics finely tweaked to see the ugly truth about herself, her boyfriend and the immoral life she is living. She tosses out the old and starts her life anew as if she was just born yesterday.
I thank Hollywood for the title, but I thank the Torah for the wisdom. For contrary to the condescending implications that comes with the phrase “born yesterday,” in Judaism, it’s a blessing and an obligation to be born yesterday--and today and tomorrow and the day after that. When a Jew is living as a proper Jew, he aims to be reborn every day as a better version of himself and as a better servant of God. OUCH! The word servant bothered you. I felt it. You wanted to stop reading then and there. But be certain that in this life YOU WILL SERVE, and if it won’t be God by your choice, He will arrange that you serve much harsher taskmasters: enemies, bosses, creditors, unpleasant family members, doctors, the IRS, etc. If you don’t believe the Torah, then maybe you’ll believe Bob Dylan: “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you're gonna’ have to serve somebody.”
Our calling to our faith does not end after our fancy bar/bat mitzvahs or after we put down the prayer books on the High Holidays. Our duty is to keep refining ourselves and to up the game in our observance of Judaism. I’m aware most people don’t want to be preached at and at this point will be saying “Thanks, but no thanks-- I’m already a good Jew.” And then they will proffer their self-serving and self-created definition of what constitutes being a good Jew which usually involves liking blintzes, fasting on Yom Kippur and feeling bad when Israelis get killed in acts of terror. Sorry, but that is tantamount to a doctor saying he’s a good doctor because he likes hospital cafeteria food, he dispenses band aids and feels bad when patients die. If you want to know what a good Jew looks like, you may want to read the God-given instruction manual.
By every other metric of our lives, such as our health, finances, beauty, etc., we aim to be better than we were last year, last month, even yesterday. It is only when it comes to being Jews that we dare not strive and have no drive to be better. Instead of being keepers of the faith, we are weepers of the faith--always crying how hard it is to keep God’s laws. “I’m a good Jew. I do enough, believe me. Too many rules.”
Sorry again, but if you are not “born yesterday” and every day as a Jew, then you are dying every day as a Jew and you are taking your children and a nation down with you. The rabbis teach that every Jew is a letter in the Torah. We also know that if a single letter is missing or damaged in the Torah, the entire scroll is not kosher and we are prohibited from reading it. What letter are you in the Torah? Bold and strong, faded and broken, or simply gone? Will we have to stop reading because of you? What will happen to our precious Torah and the Jewish people if we are on self-delete? Shabbat candles, kosher, charity, praying…there must be something you CAN do or do better.