We hear a great deal about the need to pull back from the precipice of assimilation, the need to halt the tide of intermarriage which threatens to engulf Jewish communities in the United States. But what we don’t hear much about is why. Why resist assimilation? Why not become absorbed into the body of human civilization the way countless other nations have done over the course of history? Why do we take it for granted that Jewish continuity is a good thing? Perhaps because we have an intuitive sense that the world needs us.
“By clinging to our names, our distinctive dress, and our language, we merited rescue from Egypt.”
The connection between these three things and the redemption from Egypt appears nowhere explicitly in our texts. On the other hand, the Chatam Sofer singled out these three behaviors as a recipe for maintaining our national identity. But why these particular things? And can we, after all, apply his filter to the Egyptian Exile?
Some say that Jewish liturgy focuses more on duty than on love. But is this true? Or is it that the type of love in Jewish prayer is no longer in style? This is not the philosopher’s “Intellectual Love of God”. There is no expectation of love without reciprocation, rather this is a relationship.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” Jewish tradition has tackled the question from both the halakhic and the hashkafic aspects. The halakhic view of it uses the concept of g’mul to express the way our actions in the world rebound upon us. Meanwhile, the hashkafic view assumes that, regardless of how it may look to us, Justice is in fact a conserved quantity.
Is there room in Judaism for the quest to transcend life, to let go of all the ties to earthly existence? The yearning for transcendence has been embodied in the Kabbalah, and later in the Hassidic movement which grew out of the attempt to actualize the Kabbalistic worldview. However, the mystical tendency has usually been marginalized in practice. Why? The answer may lie in the connection between death and transcendence.