Two circumstances have contributed to the shaping of the Jewish experience. The first was the Talmudic rabbis’ attitude regarding mind and body. The rabbis of the Talmud emphasized the importance of sharpening the mind while placing little importance on physical development. In fact to call a person an “Ish Guf,” a person with a well developed body, was to be understood as a major insult. The classical norm was and regrettably still is in certain Jewish communities a pale, scrawny, even wimpy yeshiva bocher (Talmudic student). Think of all the inroads Jews have made in the field of sport in just the last one hundred and fifty years, the boxers, baseball players and the Olympic champions. Moreover the establishment of the State of Israel and the image of the Sabra have done much to change the classical thinking of the significance of mind over body.
The second circumstance which shaped the Jewish experience was Europe’s refusal to allow Jews to own land. Until the modern era Jews were prohibited to own land. Without the possibility of working the land and due to frequent pogroms against Jewish communities our ancestors were forced to adopt professions that were easily practiced in new surroundings. You can’t move a farm but you can move a brain. Thus Jews turned to the professions that could be practiced with both mind and few instruments; doctors, lawyers, tailors, smiths of every varied (leather, silver, and gold) and financiers.
These two circumstances as well as the fact that we are the ‘People of the Book,” has had a dramatic influence on where we devote our energies and resources. To be a Jew is to be a thinking person, a literate person, a person who understands the value of education and yes to even appreciate the importance of taking care of one’s physical well being. It is a proud heritage. This Friday night we will honor the graduates within the congregation. Of them we can be proud. Come celebrate their success.
Shalom, Rabbi James S. Glazier