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May 17, 1991 - Image 44

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-05-17

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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he first sedra of the
book of Bamidbar (In
The Wilderness) is
always read in the synagogue
on the Sabbath before
Shavuot, the festival marking
the giving of the Torah at Mt.
Sinai.
That the Torah was given in
the wilderness has elicited
numerous interpretations in
our sacred literature. One in-
terpretation suggests that
God chose to give the Torah in
a no-man's land to indicate
that it does not belong to one
people or one land. The
message of the Torah is
universal, it was offered to all
nations, but only Israel ac-
cepted it fully and without
reservation.
Indeed, the Midrash tells us
that God offered the Torah to
many other peoples before of-
fering it to Israel. When he
approached the children of
Esau, they asked what was
written in the Torah. God
ssid, "You shall not murder."
They quickly refused the
Torah.
He then approached the
children of Ammon and
Moab. They asked what was
written in the Torah. When
God said, "You shall not com-
mit adultery," they too refus-
ed it. He then approached the
children of Ishmael. When
God said, "You shall not
steal," they declined God's
offer.
Finally, God approached
Israel. They immediately
responded, "Naaseh, we will
do what the Torah requires,
V'nishma, and then we will
hear and understand what
the Torah says."
Every time I reall that
Midrash, I am amazed at the
reaction of our ancestors.
They, of all people, should
have asked what is written in
the Torah. By training, if not
by nature, Jews are skeptics.
In our tradition nothing is
ever taken for granted; every-
thing is questioned, debated
and analyzed. That first
Shavuot was the only time in
our history when we Jews ac-
cepted something carte blan-
che — without even asking
about it.
Did we do the right thing?
Yes. The sequential response
of Naaseh V'nishma, we will
do and then we will under-
stand, is not all that strange.
It is as natural to do first and

Morton Yolkut is rabbi at
Congregation B'nai David.

understand later in religion
as it is in language. Only a
foreigner learns the rules of
grammar first and then
learns to speak.
The native acquires the
language first, and then pro-
ceeds to analyze its basic
structure. So, too, must we be
native to Torah, not foreign-
ers to God. We must be natu-
ral Jews, not artificial ones.
An appreciation of Judaism
does not come from analyzing
scholarly texts or from
philosophizing on Jewish
teachings. No reason I can
give you for observing the
Shabbat will be as convincing
as your experience of actual-
ly observing it for several
weeks. No book will persuade

Bamidbar:
Numbers 1:1-4:20.
Hosea 2:1-22.

you of the beauty and nobili-
ty of Jewish rituals as much
as practicing them.
Indeed the naaseh, the
observance, is itself a form of
nishma, a way that leads to
understanding.
The symbolism of our
rituals, the historical back-
ground of our practices, the
philosophy of our mitzvot
(laws) are important, en-
riching and valuable. The
results of such studies give
warmth and relevance to our
Jewish observances — but
they will remain unintelligi-
ble without the observance.
On that very first Shavuot,
our ancestors intuitively
grasped that Judaism cannot
be understood or appreciated
in the abstract. ❑

Temple Kol Ami
Elects Officers

The following officers,
elected at the annual meeting
of Temple Kol Ami, will be in-
stalled at Shabbat services 8
p.m. June 7: Jill Davis, presi-
dent; vice presidents, Paul
Groffsky, Gerald Flagg,
James Strauss; Harvey Beim,
treasurer;.- Susan Trigger,
secretary.
Serving on the board of
trustees this year will be:
Sandra Davidson, Barbara
Edelman, Gary Eubanks,
Judith and Steven Goren,
Howard Gurwin, Cia Lakin,
Ilene Lee, Kathryn Lenter,
Sallyjo Levine, Elinor Mor-
genstein, Judy Nadelberg,
Susan Roth, Rochelle Rubin,
Esther Schulak, Sheldon
Segal, Michael Shelden, Don-
na Sklar, Patricia and Irving
Yellin, and Seymour Ziegel-
man.

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