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In Judaism, Missing The Forest For The Trees

“If someone is studying Torah and fails to hear a baby’s cry, there is something very wrong with his learning.” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, z”l, founder of Chabad, considered the largest Jewish religious organization in the world, whose primary purpose is outreach. Read the story behind the quote here.

Being a Jew is not something you can run away from.

You can trust me on that, because when I was a kid there was nothing I wanted more.

“No, no, no, I’m not a Jew, I’m a person,” I screamed, not to others but to myself in my own head. I hated the concept of being forced into the box, or was it the cattle car, where so many others had died.

“I’m a person!”

The educator Rabbi Manis Friedman (who happens to be a Chabad rabbi himself) gives a good talk on this.

Bottom line is, if you’re a Jew, you’re a Jew, regardless.

There’s no such thing as a “religious” Jew or an “unreligious” one.

There’s only how many commandments you keep.

Or as he puts it, “The Torah wasn’t given to Orthodox Jews.”

Growing up, the reason I gave myself for hating being Jewish was of course the hypocrisy of Orthodox Judaism.

That some people were privileged over others.

That some voices mattered, and others didn’t.

And, perhaps worst of all, that one’s level of spirituality seemed to be judged in the wrong way altogether.

The more you kept Shabbos and kosher and covered your body to the floor, well the more religious you were, right?

Except that sometimes, these very same people were mean, spiteful, crooked, hateful people. People who didn’t deserve the brand they wore.

Worse yet, as I got older, much older, I learned that the child sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church was also rocking the Jewish rabbinate.

It was a shit show, and by 2009 I was all but done.

I didn’t want to be associated with religion.

And when I thought of “coming back,” I responded to myself that my faith was too far gone.

But then one day, I saw a short video clip. It was powerful. It turned me around — a short clip by Pastor Joel Osteen, “Children of the Most High God.”

In it, the pastor tells us that God values us no matter who we are, or what we feel, or what we’ve done — just because they’re us.

The same message as Rabbi Friedman — we are Jews no matter what we do, because we’re Jews.

How we handle that birthright is up to us.

Which brings me to the lesson of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, may he rest in peace.

You can be an angry Jew who repudiates his or her Judaism all the living day.

Or you can be an engaged Jew.

One who tries, in her own way, to live the values other people don’t.

Posted July 30 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The author hereby releases this blog into the public domain. All opinions are the author’s own and do not represent any other individual, organization or entity. Photo credit: aamiraimer/Pixabay (Public Domain).

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