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Blood, Sweat, and Torah

By Rabbi Rafi Rank

It is impossible to be an unthinking Jew. Of course, there are plenty of Jews who are completely thought-less. But their lives are a living contradiction for Jewishness is anything but passive. To the contrary, Jewishness or Yiddishkeit is all about struggle- the struggle for truth, the struggle for holiness, and the struggle for justice. When we stop struggling, like an animal that stops breathing, we cease to live as Jews.

The rabbis of the Talmud, some 2000 years ago, realized what we Jews had to face. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai says: Three good gifts were given by God to Israel, all of them acquired through trial and pain. They were the Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come" (Berakhot 5a). Such gifts! What kind of a people accepts gifts acquired only through trial and pain? Who are we? What kind of madness gripped our ancestors and what may be said of us, their descendents, who would inherit those struggles, not only without protest, but with genuine anticipation? We are a people who believes that our existence is no accident, that our soul is part of a greater divinity, that our insubstantial physical selves are of infinite worth, and that our lives count in some cosmic way. What we do and think, what we say and how we behave, matters. To whom? To God. That's faith.

Our parashah, Mishpatim, outlines a daunting litany of law and tradition that certainly moved our ancestors to understand that they had gotten more than they had bargained for at Sinai. But knowing that our lives were imbued with such sanctity, we were willing to abide by God's directives in order to navigate the stormy waters of life with intelligence and sensitivity. And so the struggle for Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come, becomes a challenge reserved for the privileged. To understand that life is of infinite worth and meaning and that no aspect of it can be taken casually, is a profound form of wealth. Blood, sweat, and Torah. Purpose and meaning belong to only those who will not cower in the face of life's challenges, or God's

Rafi Rank is Rabbi of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, NY as well as Vice President of the International Rabbinical Assembly

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