In this week’s reading, when Yaakov goes down to Egypt he sends his son Yehudah (Judah) to “show the way” in front of him, down to Goshen where they were to settle [Gen. 46:28]. In the original, the word “l’horos” would more accurately be translated “to instruct” or “to teach,” from the same root as “Torah.” The Medrash says that the purpose of Yehudah going first was to establish a house of study.
We’ve spoken about this before, but we see again and again that the People of the Book only stay a People when they learn the Book. The Federations had it all wrong when they talked about a “Continuity Crisis” — the Jewish People are eternal, we’re going to survive. But it is the intellectual connection to our glorious heritage that defines, more than anything else, who will remain part of the next generation.
Evelyn Gordon put this very well in a recent piece in Commentary Magazine, responding to new Federation proposals to combat assimilation:
I’d like to offer a much simpler proposal: Just stop dumbing down Judaism. American Jews overwhelmingly receive excellent secular educations; they are exposed to the most challenging, rigorous, thought-provoking material available in science, philosophy, history, and literature. Yet they rarely encounter Judaism at a level more intellectually challenging than a kindergarten class. And as long as that’s true, Judaism will never be able to compete with the secular world for their attention.
Thanks to the Internet, you can now access Jewish learning from anywhere. This is something that I think Torah.org excels at — we’re not part of any larger institution or organization, we’re simply out to engage everyone in Jewish learning compatible with their previous background and understanding.
So I have a suggestion this week (besides helping us expand, with your contribution to our Grand Raffle). Please consider visiting our subscription center, and signing up for one of our ongoing classes. It may seem daunting at first, especially if you feel you’ve joined in middle and don’t understand what came before, but “according to the toil is the reward” [Chapters of the Fathers 5:26].