When the Egyptians pursued the Israelites that they had just freed, the Jews were very afraid. They turned to Moshe and said, “was it due to a lack of graves in Egypt, that you took us out to die in the desert?” [Ex.14:11] From which we learn that sarcasm is an ancient Jewish tradition.
Moshe reassured them, and said that G-d would fight for them, they just have to watch. And then in the next verse, G-d says to Moshe, “why are you crying out to me? Speak to the children of Israel that they should go forward.” [14:15]
Rashi says that this tells us that Moshe was praying — that after reassuring the Children of Israel, he turned to G-d and prayed for help. And G-d told him, this isn’t the time for long prayers, Israel is in distress! Moshe needed to be reassuring the Children of Israel, and implementing practical solutions to get them out of trouble. While it was certainly true that only Divine Mercy saved them, the needs of others required that Moshe spend his time making efforts on their behalf, rather than praying for G-d’s help.
When I was a yeshiva student, there was a fellow who lived in the neighborhood who was a consistent supporter of the yeshiva (Ohr Somayach Monsey) whose daughter got married. So the yeshiva hosted a celebratory meal (called a “Sheva Berachos,” after the “Seven Blessings” said after each such meal held during the week following the wedding). And as we were eating, one of the rabbis got up to speak. “I have to tell you something about Joel here. Joel isn’t too frum. He’s not too religious.”
Now how could he say such a thing about a fellow out celebrating his daughter’s wedding, in the middle of a religious institution? He explained. “When a poor person comes to his door, Joel doesn’t say ‘G-d should help you’ or ‘G-d will provide.’ He opens his wallet!” Joel knew when it was time to pray, and when it was time to work to help someone in distress.
It has become well known that, sadly, Jewish communities did not do everything they could during the Holocaust, even once they learned the true extent of the atrocities committed during that time. Every generation has its fights and trials, and ours is fighting a wave of assimilation that threatens to decimate the Jewish people all over again. The way forward is to share Jewish knowledge. Are we doing everything we can?
It IS hard to maintain core Judaism in assimilated, homogenized, mainstream American culture. My parents left each other, and synagogue, in 1980. I was 10 so despite being raised with Conservative elder relatives, going to all girls Orthodox summer camp two months at a time for five years, and having years of elementary Hebrew school, I never experienced Bat Mitzvah, or other traditional rites of passage. I was removed from most all association. I cant pray in Hebrew at all now except a few verse. At first I may have been stuck in a broken gap b/t both Jewish and American Christain culture, though now that Im older I feel I created a “Bridge over the Divide”. I suppose women like me are the “LiL” of this era – if it is acceptable to mention mythologic folklore as part of a discussion on our cultural heritage.
American Jews have become secularized to the point that there is amnesia regarding our birth-covenant with HaShem. Far too many feel that Judaism is simply too difficult and too polarizing to keep that covenant alive and well. Why is that? are we simply, by virtue of Diaspora and dilution, a mysterious group without a pure genetics, culture or history to make us relevant in this world? Perhaps the answers lie in the Tanya. Perhaps in trying to bring “back” those who are wandering, trying desperately to “get it” about their Jewishness, our Rabbi’s need to review those obligations to make every Jew important, regardless of their religiosity. Not necessarily to make it “easier” rather making it more accessible. I want to feel that my Judaism is the blessing from HaShem, and for me to carry out the covenant unrequitedly, with an open mind, to question and to not feel lesser for it. Too many of my Jewish brothers and sisters believe that the Torah is a mysterious ancient text grandly taken for granted. It fits them when it is convenient. Customs and behaviors that separate us from the Christian world have been denigrated, embracing secularization. Even the act of properly attending to the Shabbat, our most important obligation, has become second naturedly ignored and resoundingly dismissed by many. Why? Rabbi’s: let’s start out to reclaim our greatness, not by bullying, pressing flesh, pushing an agenda of making one’s net worth more important than Godliness. Let’s reconsider the “place” of Jewishness in our communities, not just in the synagogue (where many of us feel out of touch, and in some cases not able to afford the customary fees and obligations). Being born into Judaism is a glorious journey, and one not just for those who can afford to take that journey. We have lost our way. The Exodus, as noted in Shemot, was a harrowing journey, one that our people have lived and relived multiple times. Rabbi’s: shepherd this flock, as it is being lost to a world not very interested in our Redemption. Restore the generations that made us a great people.
Are we doing everything we can? I think the online education sessions, and websites like yours are a big help. I also like it that there are more films for general viewing, which highlight our faith. Social media has been great as both a PR tool and for accessing information quickly. We can always do more, but I think we are moving in the right direction.