See, that’s the thing about Jewish living. It’s a verb. It’s doing. It’s what you do, not only how you feel. So, how do you Jew?
As so often happens, this week’s parasha Ki Tetzei, is all about doing Jewish, not being Jewish. And I’m pretty sure you’re already doing Jewish:
“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt to your house if anyone should fall form it” (Deut 22:8). As in, ake sure you have a fence around that pool in your backyard, so no one falls in. It’s a law in your town; it’s also a very Jewish law.
“A handmill or an upper millstone shall not be taken in pawn, for that would be taking someone’s life in pawn” (Deut. 24:6). Your neighbor may be in debt and owe you, but don’t take his/her livelihood. How would you get paid back, and besides, that’s just demeaning, which is not a very Jewish thing to do.
“You shall not have in your pouch alternate weights, smaller and larger….you must have completely honest and completely honest measures, if you are to endure long on the soil that your God is giving you, for everyone who does those things, everyone who deals dishonestly, is abhorrent to your God” (Deut. 25:13-16) It’s not enough just to say, “Be honest.” It’s “be honest in your business dealings, because that’s what it means to be holy. That’s what actually connects you to God. It’s that important.” That’s what it means to be Jewish. And for those who are not honest, sweep them from your midst. Yeah, I mean you, Bernie Madoff.
Now, I’m sure most of us already build our homes with care (and with an eye towards tort cases), respect for our fellow humans, and deal honestly in business. But when you do it with intention, with the awareness that these precepts and guidelines (nay, laws) come from a very Jewish place (the Torah, in fact)….well, that’s how you Jew. The outside act can be transformed by the inside motivation and awareness.
There’s plenty in this parasha that makes no sense at first ….and sometimes beyond that (“You shall not wear cloth combining wool and linen” Deut 22:11). Some commentary says it’s because you’d be interfering with some natural order, or don’t do it because that’s what the priests wear, which keeps it holier or….. Bogus? Profound? Whatever, as long as you’ve engaged with the idea and thought about it.
Jewish life is intentional. Think about it and then do it. And know whence your actions come. Isn’t that what spirituality is? Connecting your inside to your outside, for what good is spirituality if it doesn’t affect how you behave? That’s more than feeling Jewish, that’s doing Jewish. And doing Jewish is what gets passed on. We’re heading into a New Year. How will you connect your inside spirituality to your outside…connect your Jewish feelings to your Jewish actions? It isn’t necessarily about praying or changing your kitchen (although…maybe that’s what your spirituality learning leads you). But maybe you eat a little differently, and know why. Maybe you take moments to see the good things in your life, and acknowledge them); maybe you find out about a Jewish way of acknowledging those good things (that’s called blessings). Jewish life is a verb. How will you Jew?