What's it all about?
Sometimes I question myself as to why I even bother writing Torah blogs or recording videos every week. After all, I don’t get paid for it, plus the non-religious think I’m moralizing and the more religious are certain they have nothing to learn from me. And then I think about how important it is in Judaism to save even a single life, even if that single life is mine.
But saving a life is not just about keeping a person breathing, it is also about creating and recreating ourselves to be better people; It is about being better servants of G-d, learning and teaching Torah, and elevating the world and circumstances we were cast into during our limited time on this earth. If you are the same person you were yesterday, you are dying when the Torah clearly tells us “choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
It is not easy. But life was not meant to be a life-long membership at Club Med or Disneyland. And though the tendency is to bask in distractions and forgetfulness, any thinking person knows life must have a greater purpose than trying to avoid it altogether with frivolous escapism. Yes, life can be hard but we must fight back the best we can.
It has been asked why from all the Torah’s great men from Abraham to Moses, why the Jewish nation has come to be called Israel, the name given to our Patriarch Jacob after wrestling with an angel who ultimately blesses him: "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have striven with [an angel of] G-d and with men, and you have prevailed." It’s actually rather simple. The life of a living, breathing Jew is a constant struggle with G-d and for G-d. It is that struggle that makes us Israel; it is the struggle that makes us shine. It is that struggle that makes everything we never dreamed we could be or were destined to be, possible. But sadly, too many of us are stuck in our comfort zones:
“I’m Jewish enough; I give at the office; at home we keep kosher; I listen to YouTube videos about religion….” Not enough. If you are not struggling daily to increase your relationship with G-d, to refine your character and to bring His light into the world with your unique gifts, you are not living, you are merely existing and slowly dying. Don’t be a comfort-zone-Jew. No statistic can show you more convincingly that we are doing something very wrong more than the fact we are losing more Jews to intermarriage than to any enemy. It’s time to redefine the enemy—it’s us and our apathy.
In last week’s Torah reading we learned that the Jewish nation could not be cursed by their enemies because they were keeping all of G-d’s laws. And much to the dismay of Israel’s enemies the curses were turned to blessings. Yet we must remain forever vigilant as a people. For those who seek to destroy us come not only with guns and hatchets but also with miniskirts and smiles, with flattery and with false comforts, with false gods and meaningless bamboozlements.
In this week’s Torah reading of Pinchas we are introduced to four situations where people were born into a “situation” but it didn’t dictate or assure their journey in life teaching us we too can change. The most powerful example for me in this Torah portion is the transference of Moses’ leadership to Joshua. Moses had sons, why didn’t one of them get the job? Because being a Jew isn’t about nepotism; not your father, or yesterday’s victories, our last year’s donations or all your connections in the world are going to make you the person you need to be, only you can do that yourself by living day to day from struggle to struggle, by recognizing you are not struggling alone and that the power of G-d is with you.
Why do I teach Torah after having interviewed some of the most famous people in the world? Because after all the math is done, it is the only thing worth doing. It all adds up to ONE. G-d is the headline, the byline and the story: Ein Od Milvado—there is nothing but Him. If you see anything else, it’s time for new “glasses.”