Judaism is not oriented to the individual, either in its program or its ideology. If there is to be salvation, it will be on a group level. What’s in it for me is not a Jewish question.
The Torah teaches the contexts for people to live and acknowledges that if your living situation is not the one you wish you had, you are not alone. The first book of the Torah, Genesis, introduces the function and dysfunction of family. Through it we face the challenges and choices of the Ancestors in whose name we pray: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel and Leah. The children of the third patriarch, Jacob go into Mitzrayim “Narrow Constraint” (in English, “Egypt”), and, by the time they come out, they are modeling (or not!) the next level and context for people to live: community.
The second book of Torah identifies the conditions that will birth a community, an extended family peoplehood. In that second book, Exodus, community is created through a contract whose small print is found in every discussion held that interprets the meaning and importance of the accounts that are in that book and in all of the Torah. The contract takes affect at Mt. Sinai with the formal giving of the Torah, symbolized by the Ten Commandments (more accurately, “Utterances”).
And so Judaism unfolds: a system for families to try to become more functional in building community. The building blocks for growing the community are the breadth and detail of Mitzvah, as many as 613 of them eventually, with more than 100 suspended without a God designated sanctuary, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, to carry out the rituals of community identity and commitment.
Jews who reside in a secular world, which includes most Jews in the world, have to think and seek consciously Judaism’s principles and applications as to how they make sense and fit in with that world of difference and worlds throughout the ages that followed different standards and assumptions: that you are alone and on your own, desperately in need of God’s intervention, Grace and Salvation.
Left with mitzvah and the uniquely life-affirming categories and subsets of mitzvah, Jews remain capable of creating families (even comprised of friends lacking formal family where they live) that see the world differently and learn to respond to needs of those around them, particularly individuals who might otherwise believe they must go it alone. These families can grow in strength in banding together, bonded by shared values of life affirmation and pursuit of “tzedek”, what is “right” and in so doing build stronger community. Subsets of mitzvah that enable and anchor community include commitment to: Tzedakah, “rightness in giving” so that others will not need and Chesed, “caring action” so that others will not despair. That means giving to others whether you feel like it or not, and it means doing for others, whether you feel like it or not. Doing for others means calling someone you suspect would appreciate a call, visiting someone you suspect would be grateful for the companionship and seeking ways to be helpful in creating more connections for more people.
Those simple mitzvah steps will vouchsafe community and assure that when we need to know we are not alone, someone will be there to assure us of that truth.
Right now, there are members and associates of Bnai Israel who will greatly appreciate your help, your presence, your call, your visit, and your expertise. Please heed the call to reach out when you hear it. Those who would benefit for outreach may require your imagination and reflection to figure out who they may be.
Let us look within, then to the outside, and finally to one another as together we walk and work in building community the old fashioned way, the Torah way.
It is the only way, yet one not commonly found in the values or lack thereof in secular society, which otherwise shapes our consciousness for good or more likely for ill. What’s in it for me? There’s a world of “we”, where anything is possible because everyone is in “it” together.