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September 11, 1987 - Image 39

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-09-11

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Judaism Requires
Communal Participation


Special to The Jewish News

This week's Torah portion
describes the beautiful and
impressive ritual of Bikurim,
the bringing of the first fruits
in the spring of the year at
the festival of Shavuot.
Pilgrims who came from all
parts of the land to the city of
Jerusalem would ascend Mt.
Zion, and they would recite
there a statement of
thanksgiving to the
Almighty. ,
The Mishnah describes in
detail the manner in which
the bringing of the first fruits
took place. Entire com-
munities went up in splendid
procession. Accompanied by
musical instruments, the
pilgrims sang with exultation
as they entered Jerusalem

value is most acutely needed
in the realm of the spirit. We
can be satisfied if others play,
think, or entertain for us. But
should we expect others to be
religious in our place, to
undertake our own exercise of
the spirit, to carry our first
fruits into the sanctuary? The
participant is inspired by the
very act of his self-expression,
but the bystander does not
truly share in the depth of
religious encounter.

The genius of Judaism has
been that our religion, unlike
others, belongs to the people.
A Yiddish expression de-
clares, "Nine rabbis don't
make a minyan; but ten cob-
blers do?' The great growth
and development of Judaism
was not a product of an ec-
clesiastical structure, because
we had none. It was not due
to a professional class of rab-
bis, because such did not ex-
ist until the 15th Century.
Jewish continuity was
assured by the personal com-
mitment of every Jew to the
fulfillment of the Command-
ments and observances which
gave meaning to his life. Our
tradition bears witness to the
unwavering emphasis on the
responsibility of every Jew,
not just the chosen few, to
shoulder his responsibility to
his people, faith, and God.

Shabbat Ki Tavo:
Isaiah 60:1-22.

joyfully, often carrying their
fruits on beasts of burden.
When they reached the Tem-
ple Mount, every pilgrim
placed the basket on his own
shoulders. Even the king of
Israel, in all of his royal ma-
jesty, did the same and
presented his first fruits
before the Lord, as he joined
in the procession.
This ritual contains a great
lesson. A monarch does not
perfrom menial labor nor
does he march in a procession
with commoners. The king
could have watched the
ceremony as an observer of
the pageantry. But the king
was required to be a partici-
pant. All of Israel brought
their first fruits and the king
himself was obligated to join
in this entourage. The tradi-
tion thus emphasized the
mitzvah of being a partici-
pant rather than a spectator.
This truth merits renewed
emphasis in our time when so
many people are engaged in
passive watching. We observe
athletes exercising their
talents, we are entranced by
television personalities per-
forming on the screen, we
listen to brilliant lecturers ex-
hibiting their intellectual
prowess in public forums. We
are entertained, stimulated,
and enlightened, but a vital
component is missing.
Only involvement and par-
ticipation make possible the
process of growth and per-
sonal development. This


Judaism gives us all oppor-
tunities and occasions to
become participants rather
than spectators. As we gather
daily with our families,
parents and children have op-
portunities to recite a bless-
ing, invoke the name of God,
and make of the family table
an altar. Words of Ibrah may
be studied and discussed. The
Sabbath offers a weekly occa-
sion for the family to share in
sacred observance with the
lighting of candles, the recital
of blessings, the singing of
songs and prayers. Each Ho-
ly Day with its distinctive
practices enables us to
become participants in sacred
The High Holy Days are
rapidly approaching. Large
numbers of people will gather
in synagogues everywhere.
But the service is not a
theatrical performance, but
rather a spiritual exercise to
be undergone by each wor-
shipper. As each Jew engages
in that divine, human
dialogue which is prayer, as
each individual offers the first
fruits of his hope, love and
yearning, the entire con-
gregation can be uplifted to
new heights of the spirit.

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