Having your rugelach and eating them too

Thursday, 3 August, 2017 - 3:10 pm

Over three millennia ago, a system of values was introduced to the world. This value system would change the way people considered issues such as the acknowledgement of a Higher Power, the significance of human life and dignity, social obligations of human to human, human to animal, and human to environment, societal constructs such as property rights, ethics of war, civil and business law and so much more. I speak, of course, about the Torah. The Torah – the Jewish bible has been the most influential force in history with regards to forming the structure of societies and the morals for humanity.

While we didn’t make this stuff up – Hashem did, we can certainly take pride in our involvement in the process of the Torah being received at Sinai, as well as being a force in bringing these ideas and values to all of humanity the world over. While much of the human race was involved in barbaric practices with little respect for human life and dignity, our ancestors were internalizing the vitalizing words of Torah, absorbing the moral preaching of the prophets, and debating the finer points of the dignified body of Oral (Talmudic) Law.

As such we often find Jewish people expressing their pride in what they would consider a Jewish value. When a Jewish value serves as the inspiration for an effort to improve the world, they bask in the glory of its origin. They speak of the Jewish values that served to stimulate so many accomplished Jews throughout the ages in a wide range of capacities.

Yet, somehow, when those same Torah values do not conform to the values du jour of contemporary society, all of a sudden they are ridiculed as backwater principles that belong to the dark ages. What happened to the great Torah that was responsible for all of the enlightened ideas of which we were so proud? Poof! Just like that it is categorized as superstitious and narrow minded? To paraphrase the popular adage, “you can’t have your rugelach and eat them too.”

1985 marked 850 years since the birth of Maimonides. There was much ado being made of the significant milestone, from a religious as well as an historical perspective. He was one of our greatest sages in the post-Talmudic era. He wrote on Halacha and philosophy, Talmudic commentary and medicine. In the Israeli Knesset, a day dedicated to honoring the Rambam was held. MK after MK got up to speak of the great rationalist and philosopher who contributed so much to contemporary thought. Toward the end of the day, a Torah observant MK got up to speak and began to propose legislation that addressed intermarriage. When some of the less observant MKs protested about the discriminatory nature of his proposed law, he proclaimed, “I was merely reading a passage from the book of the great rationalist whom we honored today, Maimonides.”   

The greatness of the Torah is that it is the infinite wisdom of Hashem. That greatness is a packaged deal. It would seem paradoxical to pick and choose what of the infinite wisdom of Hashem catches our finite fancies. All of the above is just my opinion. Let the discussion begin.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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