What values do you put in your Jewish box?

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Rabbi Marc Rubenstein
Rabbi Marc Rubenstein. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Rabbi Marc Rubenstein, Special to Valley News

What is it like to come to a Rosh Hashanah service on a Friday night? On this sacred evening, we can easily imagine all the cars traveling right now back and forth and all the people who are unaware that Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest nights of the Jewish year.

It ought to make a deep impression on us. We are banded together as a congregation to worship, to pray, to reflect and hopefully to mend our ways. And I ask you, why have you come? What values do you hold that make attendance at services on Rosh Hashanah and at other times meaningful to you?

Since we live a large part of our lives outside the Jewish tradition, our lives are often divided into compartments or boxes for our occupation, family, education, etc. Those boxes are secular boxes.

Then there’s the Jewish box. What are the values in your box that are important enough to keep you from disappearing into the majority? Why are you participating in Rosh Hashanah and not on your way to your usual weekend activities?

I will speak about three values I put in my Jewish box.

Community

Being a member of the Jewish people gives me a sense of belonging.

“Friends are needed for joy as well as sorrow,” according to a Yiddish proverb. Religion as a word is derived from the same Latin root as the word ligament. The root “lig” is common to both words and means “to tie, to bind.” Just as a ligament ties bone to bone, religion ties person to person.

There’s a Jewish value called seudat mitzvah, the religiously mandated meal. Sharing a meal is more than meeting our biological needs; it is also an emotional event. People who have eaten together can never think of themselves as strangers again. Sharing a meal is a way of making the participants feel that they are linked to each other.

The late Rabbi Milton Steinberg said that “ritual as fellowship” is one of the strongest reasons for Jewish observance. Our solidarity as a group is firm when we act together and alike. We are never surer of ourselves as Jews “than in the hours when all Jews everywhere engage in identical religious acts – on Passover Eve, for example, or on the Day of Atonement. What is more, (we) will tend to be stronger in (our) own convictions for the knowledge that (we) do not stand alone in either faith or its expression, but that those like-minded with (us) make up a numerous and distinguished company.”

So the first value in my Jewish box is being here with my fellow Jews in solemn assembly on this most sacred day on the Jewish calendar.

Character formation

Being a member of the Jewish people ties me to a religious society that is rooted in the concept of ethical monotheism: one God who demands moral behavior and personal accountability of us.

It seems hard to find God in the current mess the world is in. Radical Islamic terrorists every week ratchet up with their acts of barbarism the horrors we see on our TV and computer screens. Anti-Semitism is rampant at the United Nations, throughout the Muslim world and in certain quarters in Europe. Natural disasters like hurricanes wreak havoc over vast areas.

Yet, without God, it would be a world where no one would be outraged by cruelty and hatred, a world where no one would be inspired to put an end to it. If we let ourselves become the channels through which God’s love and caring flow on their way to help others, then our moral character will be continually strengthened.

According to Psalm 146, God is the one “who secures justice for those who are wronged; who gives bread to the hungry; who restores sight to the blind; who makes those who are bent stand upright; who watches over the stranger.”

These are divine activities, but these are not descriptions of how God uses his time. These are not things God does; these are the things we do, and when we do them, God is present in our lives and those whom we help feel that God is present in their lives too.

Legacy

Being a member of the Jewish people means that I have the responsibility to form the bond that will tie the generations that are to come with the generations that have gone. This interconnectedness is clearly articulated with an analogy based on a tree.

The Jews now living are the leaves on the Jewish tree. Our historical roots are deep, going down centuries and centuries and sending up to us nourishment, in particular the nurturing thought that our spiritual heritage has shaped the moral values of the Western world, and that there is still more that the Jewish people can contribute to the betterment of all. While we live, we commit ourselves to doing what we can.

I ask each of you to consider the same question: “What are the values you put into your Jewish box?”

In Deuteronomy, it teaches that all men and women are endowed by the Creator with the freedom to choose.

God said, “See, I call heaven and earth to witness against you, that I have set before you life and blessing, death and curse. Therefore, choose life, you and your children,” in Deuteronomy 11:26.

I have posed a question to all of you this evening. What Jewish values do you choose to affirm? The answer to this question lies in your hands.

Congregation B’nai Chaim is located at 29500 Via Princesa in Murrieta. For more information, visit https://www.bnaichaim.com or find them on Facebook.