Every day we are looking for something. We may search for this “something” in the hoarding of wealth. Others may find this ineffable something in collecting books, stamps or other items. We look, knowingly or otherwise, for peace and satisfaction, a connection to G-d, in things that are not real.
“Good is something that lasts forever,” says Rabbi Yisroel, “and everyone apricates that. Evil is fighting the power of good.”
For the last few years, I have been looking for that “something” that can bring me happiness and a connection to G-d and community. Like many others, I thought I had discovered that connection in work and possessions.
In the end, of course, that was only fleeting.
I’ve also been searching for that connection to my history, my heritage, and knowledge that personal history can bring to bear when searching, as I have been, for meaning to my life. This led me to Chabad.
What is Chabad? The short answer, it is Judaism.
The longer answer?
Chabad-Lubavitch is a major movement within mainstream Jewish tradition with its roots in the Chassidic movement of the 18th century. In Czarist and Communist Russia, the leaders of Chabad led the struggle for the survival of Torah Judaism, often facing imprisonment and relentless persecution for their activities.
After the Holocaust, under the direction of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn and his successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, Chabad became a worldwide movement, caring for the spiritual and material needs of all Jews, wherever they could be found.
Judaism played a major part in my life. With all the searching, the longing for meaning and relevance for my life, I began to wander away from my past, my roots, and who I am.
So, what is Judaism? I set out by asking people what they believed Judaism is. Turns out, many people, when they think of Judaism, they assume that it is simply an ancient religion.
“I think it is the first religion,” said Brian Williams. “I think they focus on rebuilding a Temple in Israel?”
Ruben Mendoza, when we were speaking during half-time at the UTEP game had a different take on Judaism. “They pray all day.”
“The first-time heaven came to us,” according to Mary Windell. “This is the first recorded moment of heaven opening for us, and G-d speaking.”
“Judaism,” according to Menachem Posner “is defined as the totality of beliefs and practices of the Jewish people, as given by G-d and recorded in the Torah and subsequent sacred writing of Judaism.”
Now, to Chabad.
“At Chabad, we don’t believe in labels.” says Rabbi Levi Greenburg, “In fact, when the Jewish people stood at Mount Saini over three thousand years ago, G-d was not handing out labels and saying you will be Orthodox, Reform, Conservative. Those labels don’t exist.”
When G-d gave the Torah, it was received equally by all. So how should we see and view Judaism today? Is Judaism still relevant today?
Over three thousand years ago, the entire people heard the words of G-d and became frightened. Out of fear, the people begged Moses to be an intermediary between G-d and them. They worried that if G-d continued to give them the Torah, they would die. Moses told them
not to fear, not to be afraid, for G-d had revealed Himself to them so they would fear sin, fear evil, and not Him.
(Another story I heard, when I was young, was that G-d presented the Torah to all the peoples of the earth, asking who would accept, and keep the Torah. The Jewish people were the ones that accepted and said they would live a Torah life.)
With the Torah being over three thousand years old, how should we view Judaism today?
“Judaism is the same Judaism as it was three thousand years ago,” says Rabbi Levi Greenburg. “It’s the same Judaism today.” Nothing has changed. The steadfastness of Judaism, of the Torah, is something most people miss. The laws were given by G-d then are the same laws today.
“Judaism is most strict,” said Art Leon. “It is the hardest religion to follow!”
But, are those laws give by G-d to Moses, to the Jewish people, too hard to follow?
Does G-d make it hard on people?
Rabbi Yisroel Greenburg says that Judaism is easy. Speaking from personal experience, he’s right; it is easy. Even the commandments, the Mitzvot are easy in that you can begin just where you are.
(As an aside, there are 613 Mitzvot or commandments in the Torah. Not all are relevant today. Of the 248 positive commands, only 126 are currently applicable. And of the 365 negative commands, only 243 are still applicable)
Tefillin, for example, can be a place to start.
Most people know what Tefillin are, but not the name. The little black boxes you see on the arm, and the forehead, those are Tefillin. And wearing Tefillin in one of the most important Mitzvot of the Torah.
So, with so many Mitzvot, or precepts, how is Judaism easy? You don’t have to jump right into keeping all the commandments, and rules. You can simply begin with Tefillin.
If a person has never donned Tefillin before they can begin by attending Synagogue, on a Thursday morning during minyan, and begin there.
But, I am beginning to wander off track…maybe.
With Judaism being over three thousand years old and having so many commandments, is it still relevant today?
Now, I am not a rabbi or a learned person so you can take what I say with a grain of salt. I would invite you to watch the video of the Rabbis and learn more from them than you can from me.
Is Judaism relevant in today’s world? Yes.
“Authentic religion today exists in the hustle and bustle of the streets, and it is here that Torah can be most transformative for 21st-century Jews,” says Rabbi Shmuly Tanklowits. “As Moses is reassured (Deuteronomy 30:12), “Lo bishamayim hi” — The Torah is not in the heavens! It is in community and in relationships.”
“Everyone has an opportunity,” begins Rabbi Levi Greenburg, “to make this world a better place. Everyone. Every human being alive can do good. Every single person should find their way that they are going to make this world a better place.”
He continues, “G-d believes in them. The fact that there are here, on earth, means G-d has a mission that they should fulfill. And have to spend your life finding ways how to help others and to bring more good to this world.”
Rabbi Yisroel Greenburg talks of the yearning, the search.
“The world is looking,” says Rabbi Yisroel Greenburg of Chabad, “for something good to report, continuously. Unfortunately, It’s a constant war between good and evil. Evil is not a real thing. Good is real.”
The other half of what he said is something I will hold with me every day, to guide me.
“Light one candle,” says Rabbi Yisroel Greenburg. “You don’t have to fight the darkness; the light will automatically do its job. If we do a good deed, every day, consciously, we’ll add to the good in the world, and this will automatically brighten and make this world a better place.”
“Chabad is here to enhance the Judaism of all Jews. Whether they are very involved, very knowledgeable, or the runaway lost Jew, Chabad is here for everyone.”
Even for those who are not Jewish, Chabad is there; there is relevancy for them as well.
There are the Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נח Sheva Mitzvot B’nei Noach): not worshiping idols, not cursing G-d, establish courts of justice, not to commit murder, not to commit adultery or sexual immorality, do not steal, nor eat the flesh torn from a living animal.
On Tuesday of this past week, I lit just one candle, began with just one deed, I was Bar Mitzvahed, and I donned Tefillin. I have begun to let the light fight the darkness. I took that first step, that first easy step, that will add direction and meaning to my life.
What about you? Will you take that first step from wherever you are?
You can also listen to, and download the audio of out conversation below.