As we know everything is anticipated in the Torah. Nothing in the world happens which is not first recorded in the Bible. So where do we find the source for preliminary remarks introducing a Chief?
We find it is Sefer Bereshith, Parashat Lech Lecha. There God gave a major lecture telling Avraham about the upcoming birth of his son Yitzchak and the future of the Jewish people.
This speech was introduced by an angel who said the following words:
“I will visit you again next year and your wife will then have a son.” After this the Torah tells us that Sara laughed.
From here, Professor Abraham Joshua Heshel once said we learn three things: One: An introductionary remark must be brief; two that it must be witty, as it is written “and Sara laughed” and three, that it must be pregnant with meaning!
Dear Chief Rabbi Sacks and friends.
Our lecture tonight is called “After Modern Orthodoxy, then what?” Indeed this is a most important and challenging topic. What is the future of modern-orthodoxy? And to what extent will it be effective in bringing modern Jews closer to Torah and infuse all of us with lots of inspiration. The title of this lecture is most appropriate: We have to move Modern Orthodoxy beyond itself. We have to infuse Modern Orthodoxy with a new spirit just as in the nineteenth century its founding father Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch did. Bold decisions and creative thought.
In our days Modern orthodoxy has fallen victim to sameness and repetitiveness. While it includes many creative and outstanding thinkers and has tremendous potential, it has not yet found a way to create a new movement which, especially in Israel, will take our modern people back to the Beth Hamidrash and Shemirath Hamitzvoth.
This indeed is one of the great challenges of religion. It must constantly start all anew while staying on an old road. To repeat oneself is to commit forgery.
It was Soren Kiekergaard, the great Christian Danish Existentionalist who once observed that religion has to function like a thunderstorm, but that it often has invented sundry lightening conductors.
Indeed to be religious is to defy and to dare.
Faith is not a sustained, comfortable state of consciousness but a painful, well worn and impermanent conviction, a breathing spell in the midst of an ongoing conflict.
To be Jewish is a bliss and a continuous adventure. But so as to live up to this we must make sure that every religious custom must be carried out in an unaccustomed way. It is for this reason that religion is warfare, a fight against inertia, indolence and callousness.
The Talmud says that everybody in the house of David who was sent to the battle field was asked to write a bill of divorce to his wife so as to prevent them becoming agunoth and not being able to remarry in case their soldier-husbands were captured by the enemy and did not return.
To this the great Chassidic sage, the Kotzker Rebbe once said: To be a Jew is to be at war and whoever is engaged in a battle must first divorce himself from all other interests and external matters so as to win the war.
Indeed the question which modern orthodoxy has to ask itself is: Is its engagement with the modern world, secular studies, science, sociology, and philosophy, part of a deeply religious experience in which one meets God and Torah or is this engagement an external involvement representing other interests disconnected with one’s religious beliefs and observance?
Religion is funded wisdom of the past but we must make sure that we integrate the abiding teachings and inspirations of the past into our thinking as if they are given today, a “continuity without history”.
A strong personal commitment to Halacha together with an open mindedness to change where change is really necessary should be a priority on the agenda of modern orthodoxy. But it should also understand that whatever is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.
May God grant the Modern Orthodox world this wisdom.