If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week Rabbi Steven Katz, of Hendon Reform Synagogue, selects Deuteronomy 30:11–14
These verses in Sefer Devarim, the book of Deuteronomy, emphasise the accessibility of Judaism as an inheritance and a responsibility that belongs to every Jew – religious and secular, young and old, in Israel and in the diaspora.
“This commandment is not too baffling for you….” The theology, language, values and mitzvot of Judaism can be embraced by every Jew. “It is not beyond reach. It is not in the heavens…” Judaism is not the sole prerogative of Biblical priest or prophet, Talmudic sage or Hasidic rebbe – Jews have the ability and therefore the responsibility to understand, embrace and then express Judaism in their everyday lives.
“Neither is it beyond the sea….” Judaism is not confined to some particular geographical location – not a Biblical Jerusalem nor a Babylonian academy, nor a Polish shtiebl. Where there is a minyan there is a Jewish community.
“It (the commandment) is very close to you, in your mouth…” Words that come from our mouths can help or hurt, carp or comfort. We must be careful how we speak to people and how we speak of people in their absence. The Yom Kippur machzor’s litany of sins, the Al Chet, is replete with sins caused by the words of our mouths. “In your heart…” the heart is the symbol of chesed, kindness, “to observe it.”
Judaism is more than theology, more than history, more than inheritance, so much more than a fuzzy feeling. Judaism is a Jew’s zechut, an honour and privilege, and a mitzvah, a responsibility, to translate into his or her everyday relationships with family, friends, community and society, so helping God fashion the sort of world He had in mind when it was first created.
Read more from progressive Judaism: