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.