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Tradition!

by Rabbi Yossy Goldman

  

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How important is tradition in Judaism? I don't just mean for the Fiddler on the Roof -- I mean for me, you and all the rest of us: How strong is the need for tradition in the spiritual consciousness of Jews today?

Despite the effects of secularism, I would venture to suggest that there is still a need inside us to feel connected to our roots, our heritage and our sense of belonging to the Jewish people.

But for vast numbers of our people, tradition alone has not been enough. And that applies not only to the rebellious among us who may have cast aside their traditions with impunity, but also for many ordinary, thinking people who feel that to do something just because "that's the way it has always been done" is simply not good enough.

So what if my grandfather did it? My grandfather rode around in a horse and buggy! Must I give up my car for a horse just because Zayde rode a horse? And if my Bobba never got a university degree, that means that I shouldn't? So, just because my grandparents practiced certain Jewish traditions, why must I? Perhaps those traditions are as obsolete as the horse and buggy?

There are many Jews who think this way and who will not be convinced to behave Jewishly just because their grandparents did.

We need to tell them why their grandparents did it. They need to understand that their grandparents' traditions were not done just for tradition's sake but there were very good reasons why their forbears practiced those traditions. And those very same reasons and rationales still hold good today.

Too many young people were put off tradition because some Cheder or Talmud Torah teacher didn't take their questions seriously. They were silenced with a wave of the hand, a pinch of the ear, the classic when you get older, you'll understand, or the infamously classic, just do as you're told.

There are answers. There have always been answers. We may not have logical explanations for tsunamis and other tzorris, but all our traditions are founded on substance and have intelligible, credible underpinnings. If we seek answers we will find them in abundance; including layers and layers of meaning, from the simple to the symbolic to the philosophical and even mystical.

This week's Parshah features the Song of the Sea, sung by Moses and the Jewish people following the splitting of the sea and their miraculous deliverance from the Egyptian armies. In its opening lines we find the verse (Exodus 15:2), This is my G-d and I will glorify Him, the G-d of my fathers and I will exalt Him.

The sequence is significant. First comes my G-d, and only thereafter the G-d of my fathers. In the Amidah, the silent devotion which is the apex of our daily prayers, we begin addressing the Almighty as, Our G-d and the G-d of our fathers... Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Again, our G-d comes first. So it is clear that while the G-d of our fathers -- i.e. "tradition" -- most definitely plays a very important role in Judaism, still, an indispensable prerequisite is that we must make G-d ours, personally. Every Jew must develop a personal relationship with G-d. We need to understand the reasons and the significance of our traditions lest they be seen as empty ritual to be discarded by the next generation.

Authentic Judaism has never shied away from questions. Questions have always been encouraged and formed a part of our academic heritage. Every page of the Talmud is filled with questions -- and answers. You don't have to wait for the Passover Seder to ask a question.

When we think, ask, and find answers to our faith, then the traditions of our grandparents become alive and we understand fully why we should make them ours. Once a tradition has become ours, then the fact that this very same practice has been observed uninterruptedly by our ancestors throughout the generations becomes a powerful force that can inspire us and our children for all time.

 

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Amidah
Highlight of every prayer, recited silently while standing. Weekday Amidah consists of nineteen blessings, Sabbath and holiday Amidah contains seven blessings.
Seder
Festive meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday of Passover (In Israel, the Seder is observed only the first night of the holiday). Seder highlights include: reading the story of the Exodus, eating Matzah and bitter herbs, and drinking four cups of wine.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Cheder
An old-style Jewish school.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.