The Light of Our Faith

by Arliene Botnick, January 1, 2023

We are just completing the first book of Torah, Genesis, and we are ready to set out on the next step of the journey (Exodus) that our ancestors will take to understand their Jewish identity, the understanding of our Jewish identity that is still a journey we are on.

The story we read in Genesis is not really about the beginning of the Jewish people. It is truly the symbolic beginning of all humanity. Adam and Eve are given life by God. The world was brought into creation by God. Adam and Eve learned that they were created by God ‘B’zalem’, in God’s image. Adam is given the responsibility of naming all the animals, and Adam and Eve are given a choice about how their future would unfold. God put the tree of all knowledge in the middle of the garden and Adam and Eve were given the ability to choose. The choice was to choose knowledge and thus be exiled from Eden. Adam and Eve are not the first Jews.

By the time we get to Noah, we learn much more about God’s relationship with humanity. We learn about God’s anger and a severe punishment for wrongdoing. The flood is an introduction to a second beginning. It is almost as if God is restarting Genesis. But Noah, again, is not the first Jew. We move onto Abraham, the first Jew, and a new thread is added to our story, a thread about a land that we are promised. Our first major encounter with Abram emphasizes the importance of this land as Abram is commanded to ‘lech lecha’, “go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house, to the land that I will show you”. Abram will leave Haran, (after already having left Ur), and travel with dedicated faith to the land that is our destiny. In the book of Genesis, we have learned that creation is not an accident, but it is purposeful, and meaningful. We learn that we have choices, and that often we may make the wrong choices and suffer because of them. We learn that the land that we call Israel today is a land that God wants us to have.

In Exodus, we will discover that we have become tribes. We are descendants of one of those 12 tribes, the tribe of Judah whose name was changed to Israel, because he struggled with God. We are the b’nei Israel (the children of Yisrael). We will understand how we ended up in Egypt (a bad choice by Joseph’s brothers or perhaps part of a master plan). Our goal in Egypt will be to return to the promised land, even if only our remains (“And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had exacted an oath from the children of Israel, saying … you shall carry up my bones from here with you.” [Ex 13:19]) Our Jewish identity is developing into a relationship with the One God and ultimately that relationship, that covenant (brit) will be cemented when we stand at Sinai to receive the commandments. the mitzvot.

We had learned that we were created ‘B’zalem’, but it was never clearly defined what that image was. It is not an image that is based on appearance or gender. It is an image, we will learn, that is based on the values that God represents. Our historical Jewish identity included sacrifices made at Temple, rules about Shabbat and kashrut, but not descriptive of the Judaism that we are living today.

As Reform Jews, we are still making choices, and we are trying to figure out which choices will define and strengthen our Judaism and which choices may, perhaps, not be a positive choice in terms of keeping Judaism alive. But some 4000 years have passed since Abraham. and here we still are. As long as Judaism is important to us, however we acknowledge it and celebrate it, Judaism will live on. At Solel, we are blessed with an amazing heterogeneous community…. born Jews, those who have chosen to join the Jewish people, those who have not officially joined our people but caringly and proudly support their Jewish partners and family. As the last night of Chanukah has passed, and the candles are no longer burning, I believe that the light has not gone out. The light of our faith and our dedication and our pride in our identity still burns! The eternal flame is in our Jewish “neshamas’ (souls). We’ve had some rough spots, and some horrific times, and there will be more challenges to overcome, but we are in covenant with God and we will prevail.

Happy and healthy 2023 (and pack those chanukiot away for next year!)

Filed under: Educator's Message

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