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Sunday, 11 October 2015

Stand up for the Torah!

Daf Yomi Nazir 50

From time to time people drop off boxes of books at the shul, from either deceased or downsized estates.   Would you believe some of them actually ask us for a tax receipt for their donation?!  Most of the books are either ready for the shaimos (burial) or trash.  But occasionally, there are some gems that make their way into our library.  

One such gem is Herman Wouk’s This is My God.  Written in the 1950s, it is still the best defense of traditional Judaism written in the modern era.  It’s such a prize that we must have half a dozen copies on our library shelf.  It’s a classic that has withstood the test of time, even as Herman Wouk celebrates his hundredth birthday this year!  Mazal tov! 

What makes This is My God so special?

After the passing of Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda said to his students, “Don’t let the students of Rabbi Meir enter here.  They are critical.  They do not come to learn Torah; they come to undermine my halachic teachings.”   Sumchus pushed his way in and said to them, “Thus Rabbi Meir taught me: For coming into contact with the following impurities, the nazir must shave (i.e. atone and restart his nazirite term): for a corpse and for an olive’s volume of corpse.”

Rabbi Yehuda angered and said to them, “Did I not tell you not to let the students of Rabbi Meir in here for they are critical?  If the nazir becomes defiled for an olive’s volume of corpse, would he not obviously become defiled for an entire corpse?!”
Rabbi Yossi said to himself, “In the future, will they say: Meir died.  Yehuda angered.  Yossi was silent?  What will become of the Torah?!
Rabbi Yossi then said to them:  Rabbi Meir’s teaching refers to a corpse that is so decayed that it no longer has an olive’s volume of flesh (hence the need to mention the corpse separately).

Often when we hear the Torah and traditional Judaism being disrespected we find ourselves too afraid to speak up.  We say to ourselves: my friends will think I’m a fanatic if I stand up for tradition.  Or maybe it will negatively impact my career or social standing.  Or perhaps they’ll think of me as a hypocrite because I’m far from perfect in my personal religious commitment.

But it’s time to stop thinking so much about what everyone else is thinking.  Instead, we should be asking ‘what will become of the Torah?’  Years from now – whether that be during your lifetime, in the Next World, or in the Messianic era when all will be revealed – will they say, ‘there was nobody else around to stand up for the Torah and you chose to remain silent!?!’  If you are hearing the Torah and mesorah (tradition) being denigrated, the Almighty has sent the disrespecters your way so that you can set them straight.

Herman Wouk is a Pulitzer prize-winning author, whose books are international bestsellers, which have gone on to become major motion pictures.  He is the epitome of American success.  You can imagine the eyebrows that were raised when he wrote This is My God.    Here was an accomplished Jew who was successfully climbing the American ladder.  And yet he was never afraid of the fallout for his career or social standing that might result from the penning of his defense of traditional Judaism.  

Au contraire, Wouk realized that he had the talent and clout to convince a generation of young Jews of the beauty and veracity of the Torah.  They would listen to him because they respected him for his accomplishments.  And so till today, I meet people who tell me how inspired and proud they were when they read This is My God.  My parents even have friends who converted to Judaism having encountered the book!

Stand up for the Torah!  Use your talents and clout to defend Heaven!  One day, when they ask ‘Where were you when the Torah was being disrespected?’ may you be able to proudly respond ‘I was there using all my skill, energy, and social standing to defend and uphold our tradition!’

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