Have You Been Saved?

Sometimes I look at old posts and think, gee, I could have done better with that. Tonight I’m posting a new and improved version of something from two years ago.

“Have you been saved?”

I grew up in the Southeast, so I’ve been asked that question a few times.  ”Have you been saved?” is a way of asking:  are you religious?

I am here to tell you that I have not been saved.   However, I have on my shoulders the ohl hashamayim, the yoke of the covenant, and therefore I am on a mission to save what I can of my tiny little corner of the world.  I am not on that mission by myself.  I am on that mission as one of the Jewish People.

Before you get all excited, understand that this mission is no conspiracy, no Grand Plan, nothing so fancy. The mitzvot are a list of commandments: keep the Sabbath, be kind to animals, teach your child to swim, don’t murder, keep your word, make your house a safe place, pay laborers fairly and on time. Some of the commandments are lofty (keep the Sabbath) and some are very homely (put a railing anywhere someone might fall without one.) Some are hard (comfort the mourner) and some are fun (celebrate Passover every year.)

My commitment as a Jew is to action more than belief.  Individual Jews believe a lot of different things: even the most orthodox of us have latitude in our interpretations.  But all of us, every single one of us, is called to see to it that when we leave this earth it is in better shape than we found it.  We cannot do that with belief or thought.  We can only do that with action:  action with our choices, action with our bodies, action with our use of resources, action with our speech.

God redeemed the Jews from Egypt, and then, at Sinai, God handed us our half of the deal:  we are here on earth to perform mitzvot, to fulfill our sacred duties, to act.  It is in doing, in acting, that we will be sanctified, we will become holy.

So no, I have not “been saved.”  I’m here in the Jewish mode, in the active voice:  I’m here to work.  I’m here to act, when I see my neighbor bleeding.  I’m here to act on behalf of the widow and the orphan. As Hillel taught us in Avot 2:6, “in a place where there are no menschen, be a mensch.”  Mensch is Yiddish for a decent person, a good person, a person you can trust.  Either way, action, not passivity, is what Hillel advocates.

May this be a time of rededication to that sacred mission:  to perform mitzvot and make a real difference in the world, a difference for the better.  It is for this that we were brought out of Egypt.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

5 thoughts on “Have You Been Saved?”

  1. Could you please help me with some terminology? I saw a word a few posts back that you used and I thought it meant “doing a good deed,” yet I was wrong. Now I see this new word: mitzvot. I can see that it’s different because of the last four letters. Yet it starts with “mit” as the other two — the one you used and one I’m thinking of. I will probably misspell it, but the word I was thinking of was “mitzbah.” Okay, now that you’ve had a good chuckle, could you please tell me about these other two words — the one you used in your post a few days back and the one that means doing a good deed. I have in my mind also something about ritual baths taking place prior to . . . ???

    Thank you for your patience with me as I try to understand!! 🙂

    I’d love to respond to the part of your post about “being saved” sometime. I’m so not one of those people I was raised to be. God has always had a different route intended for me than the denominational attitudes I was born into and indoctrinated with under penalty of pain as a child. I just don’t want to offend, sound preachy or be misunderstood. I am not here on this planet to “convert” anyone to my beliefs. My spirituality comes from God and I believe that each one of us must find our own unique walk with Him as He created us uniquely, one-of-a-kind, to be set apart from the world, to be holy. I think I will always feel I am so far from holy that it’s laughable, but I think God sees with special vision, special eyes — eyes full of love, hope, joy, laughter, beauty — so that He sees what He knows I was, what He knows I am through His daily transformation of my soul and what I will be once He’s brought me to the place of my perfection — mine, unique, individual, one-of-a-kind.

    I am so glad you found me and my blog through Laura and I’m so thankful that I finally looked up your blog!! I have various mental/emotional/health issues that sometimes make it difficult to read other blogs, to reach out — especially since I have been burned by some bloggers and their supposed friendship. I realized one day that I needed to shake off the dust of these people and their blogs because they were toxic. I’m trying to find others that are healthier for me and I hope I will be good for them, too.

    Thank you so much for your blog and for sharing your wisdom and your life!!


  2. Kathy, I’m so sorry I missed this comment! I saw your discussion of “saved” on your blog and realized you must have commented here.

    I think the words you are talking about are “mitzvah” and “mikveh.” They are easy to confuse, since they both begin with that “mi-” sound.

    “Mitzvah” means “commandment” or “sacred duty.” In Yiddish and in colloquial English, it can also mean “good deed.” So I might write, “The mitzvah of keeping Shabbat is based in Torah,” meaning “commandment.” But in a more casual context I might say to my students, “I want to let you know about a mitzvah opportunity, volunteering at the Food Bank.” Most good deeds are based in commandments in Torah, so it really isn’t all that big a distinction.

    “Mikveh” is a facility for ritual immersion. Jews use the mikveh (plural is mikva’ot) for several purposes: for family purity (some married women immerse once a month, after menses), for conversion (the water of the mikveh is likened to the waters of birth) and men sometimes immerse in the mikveh before major holidays. When the Temple was standing, everyone had to immerse before going into the Temple precincts.

    “God sees with special vision, special eyes — eyes full of love, hope, joy, laughter, beauty — so that He sees what He knows I was, what He knows I am through His daily transformation of my soul and what I will be once He’s brought me to the place of my perfection — mine, unique, individual, one-of-a-kind.” That is so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Yes.

    From a Jewish point of view, there are many paths one might walk with God, and Judaism is only one of them. It sounds to me like you are on your path.

    All best,

    Rabbi Adar

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