Because we Jews have experienced, as no other nation has, what indifference can lead to, it is our duty, more than anybody else, to care about our fellow human beings and be an example for the rest of the world.
Every generation must find its own way to God and subsequently to the Jewish tradition. From a religious point of view, were this not the case, there would be little reason for that generation to exist. What, after all, is the meaning of human existence if not to reveal another dimension of God’s multi-colored world and Torah, and thus to gain a greater understanding of self?
The very fact that today we encounter a serious endeavor to see Halacha as the only expression of Judaism, and that some halachic authorities constantly attempt to bring the hashkafa (religious philosophy) of Judaism back to finalized dogmas, is a clear indication that those very authorities try to Halacha-ize issues of faith. But doing so robs Judaism of its vital flowing life force. We need to understand that Halacha is the practical upshot of un-finalized beliefs, a practical way of living while remaining in theological suspense.
There are two schools of thought in Judaism, two types of batei midrash: the Bet Midrash of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu. Although both of them are integral parts of Judaism, the difference between them is critical. Judaism began as an existential movement in which all that humankind does, thinks, feels, and says is touched by the spirit of God. The Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu aims to teach in order to inspire a re-awakening and transformation of the soul. It is here that we find the roots of Judaism in their most central form.
A fairy tale with much relevance to today’s times.
When confronted with death, our first reaction is consternation. We are stunned and broken. But slowly, our sense of shock gives way to a feeling of mystery. The mysterium magnum enters, and a new perspective makes itself known as a kind of revelation and elevation. Suddenly, our whole life, which we knew so well, gradually becomes concealed behind a great Secret. Our speech is silenced. Our understanding fails. There is only awe for the Other.
In Biblical days the Halacha was astir while the world was sleeping. Today the world is astir while the Halacha is sleeping. Only when it wakes up and starts to challenge our society with novel ideas and rulings will it once more be the vital mover of Jewish life. It must be prepared to look inward, challenge its own verdicts and once again understand that its main function is to protest and rebel.
For a nation to maintain sensitivity and concern for “the other,” it must continue to live in some form of strangerhood. It must never be fully secure, and must constantly be aware of its own existential uncertainty. As such, the Jew is to be a stranger.
We are in need of a radically different kind of yeshiva: one in which students are confronted with serious challenges to Halacha and its weltanschauung and learn how to respond; where they become aware that it is not certainty, but doubt, that gets you an education; where it is not Rabbinic authority that reigns supreme, but religious authenticity.
Like the generation of the Tower of Babel, in which the whole world was “of one language and of one speech,” we are producing a religious Jewish community of artificial conformism in which independent thought and difference of opinion is not only condemned, but its absence is considered to be the ultimate ideal.