[JOI Word of Torah] Big Tent Judaism: Toledot
Kerry M. Olitzky
KOlitzky at joi.org
Tue Nov 21 21:07:22 GMT 2006
"Big Tent Judaism" Word of Torah
November 25, 2006/4 Kislev 5767
There are those who believe that the name of each Torah portion is a marker
along the spiritual journey of the Jewish people. In addition, these same
signposts can be used to guide us along the route of our own journey. In
this week's Torah portion the toledot, or legacy of Isaac, provides the
foundation for what follows. It is as if we have to note the path that Isaac
has taken so that we can better understand how he got to this point in the
Biblical narrative. This is especially important since we have heard little
from him since the akedah.
This portion serves as what social gerontologists might call a mini life
review for Isaac-something we might choose to call cheshbon hanefesh-a
review of his past as he thinks about the future trajectory of his life.
This teaches us that the history of the Jewish people is on a track parallel
to our own personal journey-past and future. What takes place along the path
of the Jewish people in the Torah can serve as a paradigm for our own life's
journey. The signposts-the Torah portions' markers-offer us direction and
guidance. That is why it is important for us to learn from the past as we
navigate the present and the future.
For me, Gen. 26:18 is the most instructive: "Isaac dug again the wells of
water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father.and he called
their names the names by which his father had called them." Before he could
move on with his own life, he had to relive his father's. But Isaac was
realistic. He dug into the wells of his father for grounding before digging
deeply into himself. Afterwards, the waters flowed again. In the Torah,
sustenance often seems to come from a well. In his digging, Isaac didn't
just look at the surface of his past, but dug deeply in order to truly learn
from it. This includes digging into his father's past and making it his own
before going beyond it. It seems to be the way that generations move
Before the Jewish community can move on and create a future for itself, it
too has to review the journey of its ancestors. That is what brings us to
"big tent Judaism." Abraham built a big tent with flaps open on all four
sides. He even went so far as to run out and greet travelers on the road.
Taking his lead, to become Isaac, we have to bring the Jewish community with
us when we meet people where they are in their journey if we are to
accommodate those who now wish to enter our tent.
Such forward movement-continuing to open the tent even further-took place
during the journey of the Jewish people throughout its history. Shortly
before my own bubbe's death, the last of the Russians in our family, she
reminded me that they had left Russia when she was a young child because it
was "terrible." That was the only word she could find for it. There was no
place for empty nostalgia in her life and she wanted to make sure that I had
dismissed it as well. She lived a thoroughly traditional Jewish life and she
charged me with building a Jewish community that would be sustained into the
future. So now it is our obligation to bring the big tent out into the open.
Dr. Kerry M. Olitzky
Jewish Outreach Institute
1270 Broadway, Suite 609
New York, NY 10001
<http://www.joi.org/> www.JOI.org <http://www.joi.org/>
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You are welcome to use these ideas in your own work and writings as long as
you would be so kind as to credit Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and the Jewish
Outreach Institute, thank you.
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