It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman’s post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in postings over a time frame of days (rather than moments) predicated upon the belief in the value of and […]
I haven’t had a chance to read Rabbi Jen Krause’s book yet, but I agree with her that the rabbis were the first self-help coaches. I would add that was so because they had the first self-help manual: the Torah.
If you think about it, the Torah is really all about two things: relationships and finding balance. The Torah covers relationships with parents, siblings, spouses, kids, our neighbors, the poor and vulnerable, people we do know and people we don’t, and even those who want to hurt us or others. It deals with finding a balance between being productive and regenerative, between taking care of yourself and others, between being successful and living generously, between using resources and protecting them, between having and sharing, between doing and being. This is the stuff of most self-help manuals! Torah means teaching. Every letter and verse contains a teaching for how we can lead a better, more fulfilled, satisfying, and good life.
God is limitless. Revelation is limitless. But we human beings are limited. That’s why it makes sense to me that other traditions contain kernels of truth that are part of God’s revelation. Having studied meditation and various eastern traditions myself, I am always struck with how much of the wisdom of Torah has been ignored in so much of what has become of modern Judaism. The need to search outside Judaism is not a problem with Judaism as much as with the questions we have been asking of it.
The question that Rabbi Waxman and Rabbi Stern focus on–how much can we draw upon the outside world before we stop being true to our Jewish identity and tradition–is ultimately a twentieth century question. It is one of the central questions around which the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Movements organized and have continued to define themselves for the last century or more.
That debate just doesn’t speak to a generation, which is highly connected via the Internet. Most young people also seem to have little more than a passing interest in the historicity of the biblical text (whether the biblical record can be corroborated through archeology, etc.) or of rabbinic texts. Such questions motivated deep passion in an entire generation of Jewish scholars seeking acceptance in the non-Jewish world of the academy. But aside from the academy, such questions often fall flat.
A prospective convert just came into my office and told me one of the reasons he wants to convert is that Judaism helps him discover how to help make the world a better place. That is what the young generation is looking for. The answers to that question, and others, can be found in our own traditions, if we are willing to search for them and teach them.