Tonight I want to speak to all the Jewish youth in our congregation. Happy New Year!
The Midrash relates that before God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, he requested guarantors who would ensure that the people would indeed study Torah and fulfill the mitzvot.
Why did God demand guarantors before giving the Torah? Weren’t the Jewish people the Chosen Nation? Yet God knew that a time would come when the people would become preoccupied with work, with worldly cares and burdens. For various reasons the Jewish people would eventually lose their sense of the importance of Torah and the preciousness of mitzvot. In that state, God forbid, it is possible that the Torah would be abandoned.
Therefore God asked the people for guarantors. He wanted to be assured that His precious gift, the Torah, would be treated with the respect and dignity it deserved, and would never be forsaken.
At first the people offered their elders. “Our forefathers will be our guarantors.” The elderly are no longer employed; do not have the burden of earning a livelihood. They have plenty of free time. They can be the guarantors.
However, God did not accept this suggestion.
Next the Jewish people offered their rabbis, their spiritual leaders. “The rabbis will be our guarantors.” Take the rabbis; they study Torah all the time! Who could be a better guarantor than that?
But God did not agree to this either. He wanted an assurance that ALL Jews would study Torah, not just those with an abundance of free time, or those whose exclusive occupation was to study Torah. Everyone, even those who were occupied with other matters, even those who find it difficult to study. It’s not enough that your grandfather or your rabbi is learned and fulfills mitzvot. God wanted this from every single Jew.
Therefore He asked for other guarantors. Finally, the Jewish people offered their own children. They promised that the children would study Torah and safeguard it for generations. And to this God agreed. The children are the ideal guarantors.
So my young friends-you are the guarantors of Torah and therefore the future of Judaism! Sorry to spring this immense responsibility on you. But it’s time you knew. And you thought you were just coming for services!
Given this immense responsibility I think it only fair that I share with you some of the tasks you’ll have to assume in the days to come.
- The future of Jewish culture, religion and learning has always depended upon the synagogue. No other place, not the Jewish community center, not the Jewish Federation, not the Jewish country club has ever secured the future well-being of our people as has the synagogue. It’s the synagogue that names newborns, educates children and adults, celebrates weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, shares sorrow during times of loss and hardship, provides for those in need and responds to the needs of those who are not affiliated. Your job will be to ensure the survival of the synagogue. No matter where you live in the years to come align yourself with the synagogue. Become a member! And never, never think that just because you don’t actively participate in synagogue events you don’t need to join. Remember it’s not all about you! Even if you never participate your membership will provide others the opportunity to do so. Strong synagogues create healthy and vibrant Jewish communities.
- Never stop studying about Judaism. Be a student of Judaism your entire life. You were thirteen years old when you had your bar or bat Mitzvah and about 16 years old when you were confirmed, that is if you had a Confirmation. Really do you think thirteen or sixteen years is enough time to learn about all there is to know about Judaism. I don’t think so. I’ve been a student of Judaism my entire life. And if I’ve learned anything I’ve learned how much I still don’t know about my faith, culture, language, history and practice. Someday you will be blessed with children and they will look to you to impart to them the wonder, richness and beauty of our faith and heritage. The more learned you are the easier the task will be. When you don’t know the answer to a question pertaining to Judaism-go and find the answer. When presented with the opportunity to learn more about Judaism jump in. When you attend college or university take courses in Jewish subjects. Immerse yourselves in matters that pertain to the Jewish people. Read the Jewish press. Stay aware of events that impact and shape the State of Israel and impact and shape the lives of Jews living in Diaspora. Come to worship and learn the liturgy. Hebrew is the universal language of the Jewish people. If your are comfortable with Jewish liturgy (the prayer book) and Hebrew you will be able to walk into any synagogue in the world and feel completely at home. Of course this takes work but I know you are smart enough to succeed. The only thing standing in your way is you!
- Yet learning is but half the equation. Our prayer book reminds us that we learn in order to do. The application of our Jewish learning is as important as the learning itself. Comparing a Jew to a tree: A Jew that has knowledge but does nothing with his or her knowledge can be compared to a tree that has deep roots but little foliage. The lack of foliage will eventually impact the tree’s roots and it will surely die. A Jew that has little knowledge but is very active can be compared to a tree that has much foliage but few roots. A wind may come and blow the tree over. However the Jew that is imbued with knowledge and performs many righteous acts may be compared to a tree with deep roots and abundant foliage. In stormy conditions and difficult times the tree will survive. The world is far from perfect. Everywhere evil surrounds us: plagues in Africa, domestic violence in the United States, wars in the Middle East and the Ukraine. Use your Jewish knowledge to make this a better world in which to live. When God was creating the world, God stopped creating just seconds before the end of the sixth day, the day on which humankind was created. Stopping before the completion of the day explains why the world isn’t perfect. Why did God stop? So that humankind could finish the creation by removing the imperfections that afflict our lives. You are God’s co-partners in making this a better world for all of creation!
- And here is my last admonition to you: BE A PROUD JEW! As Jews we have much to be proud! We have given the world values and ideals by which to live. THE BELIEF IN A ONE GOD, BELIEF THAT WE CAN MAKE THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE, BELIEF THAT ALL HUMANKIND WAS CREATED EQUALLY AND IN THE IMAGE OF GOD, BELIEF THAT TOMORROW CAN BE A BETTER DAY THAN YESTERDAY OR TODAY AND BELIEF REDEMPTION CANNOT COME UNTIL ALL HUMANKIND IS FREE. Be proud also of the accomplishments of your people in the arts, the sciences, the financial world, in social justice, in law and in government. Jews make up only.2 % of the world’s population but have won 22% of the Nobel Prizes. Our people have done and continue to do wondrous things. You come from a wonderful heritage and family. Be proud of who you are-not in a boastful way or an arrogant way rather in a way that allows you to be your authentic self. There are so many proud public Jews: Paula Abdul (American Idol), William Shatner (Star Trek), Leonard Nemoy (Star Trek), Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), Liev Schrieber, Emanuelle Chriqui and Adam Sandler to name but a few.
You are our future, you are our hope. You represent the eternality of our people. May God bless you with strength and with peace. Amen.