Active Judaism is better than passive Judaism

BY RABBI DANIEL PLOTKIN

This is not an article for those considering conversion to Judaism, although all are welcome to read. This is an article for the rest of us who, by nature of the society in which we live, are either Jews by choice or Jews by chance.

Parshat Re’eh has Moses giving the Israelites a choice between the blessing and the curse. Each Israelite is free to make that choice, and they are well aware of the consequences of choosing the curse. For those choosing the blessing, the portion continues with the continuation of Moses’s discourse on Jewish law and tradition.

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We have the same decision to make today. Each one of us has the opportunity to go toward the blessing by choosing to live a Jewish life. This is not a given in our modern times. It is easy, very easy, to let Judaism just simply be a matter of chance. We can ignore our community, not concern ourselves with study or ritual observance and simply let our Judaism be something that is no more than a circumstance of our birth. This path is the curse, simply by nature of it causing us to lose out on the blessing of a Jewish life.

The blessing comes when we choose a Jewish life. This does not mean that we have to move into the eruv in University City or Chesterfield, or keep strict kashrut and Shabbat observances (although those are very valid Jewish choices). What it means is that Judaism can be a part of our lives on a daily basis whether we are Orthodox or Reform, Conservative or even secular.

Jewish choices are easy to make when we open our minds and hearts to the vast variety and diversity within Jewish tradition. Shabbat can be observed through traditional halacha, or by making sure it is a special day for family and participating in the Jewish community. Kashrut can be observed by going to one of the local Vaad Hoeir approved stores and restaurants, by simply cutting pork and shellfish from your diet, or by choosing to eat organic and free-range meats and produce. The holidays, from the upcoming High Holy days, to Hanukkah and Passover, each have a variety of different observances, each congregation in town celebrating in its own special way.

Being passive is easy, you can allow Judaism to happen to you. But the true blessing of Judaism comes when each of us takes control of our Judaism and finds within it the traditions, paths, customs and community that allow it to be an important part of our lives.

As you read this we will be within days of beginning the month of Elul, the final month before the High Holy Days when we stand in judgment before God and before ourselves. During this sacred time let us reflect on what it means to be a Jew by choice and pursue the blessings that Judaism offers to each and every one of us.

Rabbi Daniel Plotkin of Congregation B’nai El prepared this week’s Torah Portion.