Who Are You Really?

Friday, 31 May, 2024 - 9:58 am

How do you view your Jewish identity? Is it like clothing that you can remove and change at will? Today you wear the blue shirt, tomorrow it is the green one. Or is it an inseparable part of you, like your skin, or perhaps even a vital organ such as the heart or the brain?

Is our Jewishness an aspect of who we are, among many? We have our professions, our social affiliations, our alma maters, our family dynamics; and we also have our religious/ethnic/cultural identities as Jews. Or is our Jewishness the definition of our identities, upon which all other aspects of ourselves are overlaid?

Our sages employ the metaphor of a letter of the Torah to describe the identity of each Jew. That can go two ways. When a letter is inked onto parchment, the two entities fuse together. However, the ink and parchment are essentially distinct from each other, and can even be separated. The ink may fade or be scratched off, leaving the parchment unaffected by what was once there but is now missing. The other option is to engrave a letter onto stone. When that happens the letter and the stone are inseparable. One cannot erase the letter without impacting the stone.

Chassidus maintains that our Jewish identities are like the engraved letter. We can never lose our identity. It cannot even fade. All that can happen is that some dirt gets caught in the grooves of the engraved letter and must be removed, thereby revealing what was intact beneath it the entire time.

Now the question becomes, can we live our lives in such a way that our Judaism is engraved within us as well? This is the meaning of the opening verse of this week’s Parsha – “Im Bechukotai Teileichu.” Bechukotai is translated as my suprarational commands, the Mitzvot for which we have no compelling explanation beyond obedience to G-d. However, at its root, Bechukotai is related to the Hebrew word for engraved, “Chakuk.” This means that Hashem is imploring us to view our commitment to the Torah and Mitzvot as engraved within us, something which is immutable. When we experience our relationship to Torah and Mitzvot as “engraved,” there is nothing that supersedes that commitment, nor is there a space or time in our lives that is not shaped by Torah.

This is a life that is not conflicted or compartmentalized. All aspects of the person’s life are in harmony because they are defined by the underlying identity and commitment that is at the core of everything we do and experience.

This commitment brings the promise of blessings from Hashem stated in the parsha. “I will walk among you and be your G-d, and you will be My people.” “I will turn towards you, and I will make you fruitful and increase you, and I will set up My covenant with you.” “I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.” “I will grant peace in the Land.”

May it take place speedily, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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