Your RDA of Irony

Oy Vadis

(At the risk of a second Masada, my synagogue asked me to conduct a Sabbath service.  Of course, you know that I couldn’t be left alone with a pulpit.)

Our Torah reading is from Deuteronomy.  You should know that Deuteronomy is just the outtakes from Exodus.  God and Moses were not trying to compete with Tolstoy, so they conceded that some editing was in order.  And God’s omniscience saw a therapeutic need for Deuteronomy.  After all those benumbing strictures in Leviticus and Numbers, the further adventures of Moses would be a thrilling relief. 

Tonight’s reading–Chapters 7 to 12–begins with Moses addressing the Jewish people as they begin the conquest of Canaan.  They have had forty years of boot camp–Moses scarcely needs to remind them of that–but he tells the assembled tribes that their power is not in military might, but in their faith in God.  With that faith, victory is inevitable.  They shall have a country blessed by God, a land of milk and honey.

But Moses fears what might happen after the victory.  Would the Jews succumb to complacency, would they neglect their duties to God, would the Jews forget themselves?  Moses exhorted his people–our people–“to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul….And you shall therefore lay up these words of mine…you shall teach them to your children.” 

So…did we?  No Pharaoh would recognize the culture or language of modern Egypt. Pericles would not identify or understand the modern Greek. Julius Caesar might recognize the aquiline nose and the hedonism in the modern Italian, but he’d be mystified by the loss of the imperial identity. Hillel, however, would find in the modern Jew a consistency and continuity in religion and culture. When you consider the great empires and civilizations of Antiquity, it is a remarkable irony that the sole surviving culture would be a small, parochial, tribal society.


We kept our covenant and we maintained our identity, defying time and tyranny.  How did we do it?  Do you have a few hundred hours to discuss this?  The Gentiles thought we were too stubborn to take a hint–the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms–quite a few hints.  I suppose we are stubborn, and we are also proud. (Yes, that was an accusation, too.)  You see, through our faith in God, we have a faith in ourselves.  As much as God has chosen us, we have chosen to be Jews.

And in that choice, with its proud, stubborn heritage, we assume its continuing responsibility.  We must teach our children that Judaism is more than a bar mitzvah and a few Yiddish quips.  Make them watch “Fiddler on the Roof” with the soundtrack off, because the pictures tell the real story:  our life before Highland Park.  Open their eyes and open their minds to the history that created them, to the legacy that is theirs.  “The World of Our Fathers” is their world, too. 

So share with your children and grandchildren your love of Judaism, its joys and tears.  Give them that same pride and purpose that have inspired our people for three thousand years, that have made us a light unto other nations. 

Shabbos Shalom.

  1. Leah says:

    Nicely done. Besides the Japanese, who have Shintoism, is there another nationality that is both an ethnic group and a religion?

    I will not accept Church of England as an answer, by the way.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Hello Leah,

      Allowing for Alperts who called themselves Ram Dass, I would say that Hinduism correlates to India, although not all Indians are Hindus.


  2. Peg Pruitt says:

    Very interesting and entertaining. Thanks.

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