by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And He humbled you, and caused you to feel hunger, and [then] He fed you
the Manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, in order to
make you realize that not by bread alone does man live, but by all that
comes from the mouth of G-d does man live." [8:3]
Our ancestors - by surviving at G-d's hand for forty years - were taught a
lesson of incomparable value. We realize that we have physical needs. But do
we honestly realize that our spiritual side has needs as well, without
which we cannot flourish?
The society around us wants us to believe otherwise. We have jobs in order
to... "make a living." Food, clothing, shelter, car - and two weeks vacation
in the Bahamas - and that's "a living." Torah? G-d? Religion is "the opiate
of the masses!" So Judaism becomes a weekend activity.
It's a critical error - for anyone, but especially for Jews. Cult movements
across America became quite large in the 70's and 80's, filling their ranks
with college students desperate for "spiritual fulfillment." And one-third
to one-half of the adherents were young Jews (only 3% of the U.S. population).
In the Talmud Brachos 61b, Rebbe Akiva compares a Jew without Torah to a
fish out of water:
The Rabbis taught: at one time, the evil kingdom (the Romans) made a
decree that the Jews could not study Torah. Papos ben Yehudah discovered
Rebbe Akiva gathering congregations together and teaching Torah in public.
He said, "Akiva! Are you not scared of the government?"
Rebbe Akiva replied, "I will give you a parable. To what can our situation
To a fox walking on the bank of a river, who saw fish in the water darting
from place to place. He asked the fish, "Why are you fleeing?"
The fish replied, "Because of the nets that people bring upon us."
So the fox said, "Would you like to come up on the dry land? You and I
will live together, just as your fathers lived with mine."
Asked the fish, "Are you the one that they call the clever animal? You are
not clever, but a fool! If we are afraid here, where we live, how much
more so would we be in a place where we die!"
"So it is with us, who are sitting and studying Torah, which says
(Deuteronomy 30) 'for it is your lives and the length of your days.' So
would we be if we were to get up and leave it," concluded Rebbe Akiva.
They [the Rabbis] said, it was not terribly long before they captured
Rebbe Akiva and imprisoned him, and they captured Papos ben Yehudah and
placed him into the same cell. Rebbe Akiva said to him, "Papos! What
brings you here?"
He replied, "Happy are you, Akiva, who was captured over words of Torah!
Woe is to Papos, who was captured over vain foolishness!"
Is the absence of Torah fatal? No, not on an immediate, physical level. But
Rebbe Akiva was saying, "This is life itself." It gives meaning to our
entire existence. A Jewish home without Torah... is dead. It doesn't matter
if the people are physically healthy, because on a spiritual level, there is
nothing. If we don't see it immediately, we see it in the next generation,
the generation that - like the fish out of water - so often withers and
dries up, and is lost to the Jewish people.
Today, we the Jews have lost sight of this reality. In Jewish communities
around the world, "continuity" has become the buzzword. Reacting to surveys
showing incredible rates of assimilation (drying fish), various Jewish
organizations are acting to "ensure the survival of the Jewish people." Yet
how do they spend their (your) money? How often is the answer "education?"
Even in Israel, the rate of Yerida (emigration) has become quite frightening
- one wit commented that the fourth-largest Israeli population center is
Brooklyn, NY, and I don't think this was an exaggeration.
The same surveys show a clear linkage between Jewish education and Jewishly
active adults. The only answer - the only road to not merely Jewish
survival, but growing and flourishing Jewish life - is a solid commitment to
Judaism and Jewish learning.
"And you shall place these words upon your hearts, and upon your souls, and
you shall tie them for a sign upon your hands, and they shall be Totafos
between your eyes; and you shall teach them to your children, to speak of
them when sitting in your house, when walking on the way, when lying down,
and when arising; and you shall write them upon the doorposts of your houses
and in your gates; in order that your days be increased, and those of your
children, upon the land which G-d has sworn to your fathers to give them,
like the days of heaven upon the earth." [11:18-21]
If you read our classes - that's a positive step. But do more... and take
your Torah home with you. Homes filled with Torah are the building blocks
that support the Jewish community.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.