It's familiar ground we've been over before. The postscript to the holiness code reminds us that we have free will, and that if we follow G"d's ways, we will reap reward, and if we are disobedient, then we will incur G"d's wrath. I'm not here to debate the relative merits of the "scare them into submission" or "obedience reaps reward" techniques. That's a discussion we've had, and can have again at another time.
This year, I want to grab a little piece of the text and twist it and reshape it to become a metaphor for our own times. Among the chastisements we receive for disobedience would be weakness of will and an abundance of fear. As the text says, "kol aleh niddaf" the voice/sound of a driven(blown) leaf shall put them to flight."
I'd like to suggest the we (and I include myself in this) have come to a place in history where once again, the sound of a driven leaf is enough to send us fleeing, or send us into a panic.
It started years ago, and has been continually exacerbated. The cries of doom and gloom in the Jewish community have been reverberating for so long that they are beginning to sound like the boy who cried wolf. Yet they still manage to stir up panic. With each new panic, another set of suggested cures.
Our Judaism is dying. This will fix it.
Jewish education is in a shambles. This will fix it.
Synagogue memberships are declining. This will fix it.
Well, I've got news for all of us. Most of the suggested fixes haven't worked. (As a result, we become even more cynical about the next set of proposals.) Of course, they haven't worked based on the yardstick we have established. Maybe it's not the ideas, but the yardstick that is flawed.
While it may seem odd to want to return to a system in which, with each new King or Ruler, the measure of a foot or a cubit changes, there may be some ancient wisdom in that. We may be measuring our success and failures on the basis of feet or cubits from the previous dynasty.
At the drop of a hat, with the mere sound of a blown leaf, we set off in a panic to right what is wrong with Judaism. what's our hurry? It has taken us thousands of years to get where we are. Judaism has changed and evolved quite a bit over that time, and it no doubt will change just as much over the next few thousand years. Why are we measuring things in terms of weeks, months, years, or even decades, when we ought to be thinking much longer terms.
What we need are tools that will help us persist and adapt as necessary over the long term, not short-term fixes that will bolster our numbers. In some ways, Judaism is making the same mistake that has brought our economy to the brink of collapse, looking for the quick buck.
Of late, I've been quite the pessimist. I've become increasingly concerned for the future of Judaism. Am I being reactive to the sound of blown leaves? I am beginning to think so. Time to take a longer-term view.
Though G"d provides a fairly long list of calamities that will befall us if we do not follow G"d's ways, in the end, G"d promises to remember the covenant made with our ancestors. Now that's thinking long term. Maybe it's time to stop being frightened at the sound of blown leaves, get out of panic mode, and take a good, long, hard look at what the futures holds, and how we might best be prepared for it. In the meantime, we should chill out a bit, get out of panic mode, take a deep breath, and move on. what better time for that than Shabbat?
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester