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Sunday, 18 May 2014

Do you own your Judaism or are you just doing whatever your parents did?


Rosh Hashanah 11

We’re all familiar with the classic story of the balabusta who would always cut off the ends of her roast before cooking it.  Upon being questioned as to this strange practice, she explains that she was taught to prepare it that way by her mother.  They call the mother and ask her to elucidate and she says that she was taught to do it that way by her mother. 

One visit later to the seniors’ home and everything becomes clear. 
“Why would I always cut off the ends of my roast before cooking it?” chuckles the old lady, “Well, back in the day, we couldn’t afford a large pot.  And so I had to cut off the ends to fit the piece of meat into the small pot.”

While people often quote this fable to criticize the abundance of meaningless customs and rituals, in actuality it is a sad reflection of most people’s day-to-day lives.

On 15th Nisan 2448, our nation left Egypt.   The Egyptians had endured ten miserable plagues and finally Pharaoh agreed to ‘let the people go.’  During the plagues, were we still working as slaves? 

The Beraisa states: “On Rosh Hashanah, our ancestors in Egypt ceased being slaves.”   Thus, for our final six and a half months in Egypt, we were no longer working for Pharaoh.

Tosfos points out that according to the Mishnah in tractate Eduyot, the plagues lasted twelve months.   And so, for half the plagues, the Children of Israel were still enslaved.

Picture it.  The Egyptians are looking far and wide for pure water to drink, because everything has turned to blood.  Their lives have been completely disrupted because there are frogs everywhere.  They can’t stop scratching themselves because the land is writhing with lice.   There are wild animals everywhere wreaking havoc and then all the beasts die, spreading physical contamination.

And while all this is going on, the Israelites just keep showing up to work, day in day out.  They just continue doing their thing: looking for straw, making bricks, building pyramids; oblivious to the chaos around them.

And then one day, somebody wakes up and thinks to himself, “You know, we probably don’t have to do this anymore.  If I don’t show up to work today, nobody’s going to say boo.”  And slowly but surely this brilliant idea spreads and eventually all the Jews realize that they’re done with the whole slavery thing.

But why did it take them five and a half months to figure that out? 

Sometimes we’re so used to doing what we do that we get caught in a rut.  Our poor ancestors had been slaves for two hundred and ten years.  That’s all they knew.   Any other life didn’t ever occur to them.  The only life they were familiar with was the one where you get up each day and work as a slave to Pharaoh. 

Stop. Think.  Why do you behave the way you do?

Are you doing whatever Judaism your parents gave you?  Or have you taken ownership of your spiritual life?   Some people go through the motions for many years through childhood and into their adult years until one day they finally wake up and ask themselves why they’re doing what they’re doing.  And often there are pitiful consequences – because they failed to discover themselves earlier.

Or take the bulk of our people who go through life with at best a tenuous connection to their Judaism, as bequeathed them by their parents.  They hang onto it by a mere thread of consciousness because they’ve never stopped to give their religious commitment any thought.  It is what it is and hopefully nothing changes.  After all, change is complicated and takes effort, so why bother? 

Sound familiar?

It’s time to wake up!  Stop working for Pharaoh, he’s not even watching!  Don’t just do whatever Judaism you do because that’s what you’ve always done.  Stop and figure out what it means to you – maybe it’s time to do something completely different.  Perhaps it’s time to break free of the bonds of slavery that have trapped you throughout your life. 


It’s time you figured out for yourself the most spiritually enriching way to lead your life and may the Almighty bestow you with the wisdom to seek, find and own the truth.  Your life will become eternally meaningful and blessed.