Pekudei: Bringing home the bacon Gold Medal.

I don’t remember where I got the notion that Olympic Gold Medalist Sage Kotsenburg is Jewish. I think it was an item in the Jerusalem Post or Times of Israel, but I can’t now find it. 

Whatever the source, I felt a small burst of pride that “one of us” had won a Gold Medal, even if it was for making death-defying leaps and flips on a snowboard.

But my pride turned to disappointment and even indignation when I read that he had ‘Tweeted’ that he wished the Sochi medals were made of bacon -- and then ate a bacon Gold Medal replica on the television show Conan.  

My blood pressure spiked as I recalled other (generally non-observant) Jewish sports heroes –- including Al Rosen, Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, and Shawn Green -- who had pointedly embraced their Jewish heritage on a national stage by refusing to play on Yom Kippur.  “Some example Kotsenburg is setting for today’s Jewish youth,” I fumed, “especially when we desperately need to strengthen their sense of Jewish connection.  What a huge missed opportunity!”   

But, evidently, I was wrong/misled.  So far as I can now determine, Kotsenburg isn’t Jewish. And even if he is, should his actions really have so disappointed (or even surprised) me? I’d guess that the majority of non-observant Jews in the world, even if very proud of their heritage, eat bacon … as I did as a child, notwithstanding the fact that my family was extremely active in our synagogue.  

But even though I falsely, if inadvertently, accused, tried, and convicted Sage Kotsenburg in my mind, it still raises a point relevant to this week’s Torah portion. Pekudei begins with a detailed accounting of the gold and other assets used in the construction of the tabernacle.

Moses stood against Pharaoh, led the Israelites out of Egypt, brought down the Torah, and not only spoke directly with G-d but even challenged G-d – all on behalf of his people.  You wouldn’t think that he would need to be accountable to the Israelites for every shekel that went into the Tabernacle.   But he was.  And so should we be about our behavior; not just how we use others’ property. 

As individual Jews, we have free will.  As Americans, we have enormous freedom of action. But as members of the Jewish people, we are not free actors.  We are accountable to each other, as well as to G-d, our families, our communities, our neighbors, and ourselves. Whenever others (Jews and non-Jews alike) identify us as Jews, our behavior reflects upon all Jews. 

According to the Talmud (Shavuot 39a), Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh: "All Israel is responsible for one another.” This doesn’t just mean helping each other in time of need.  It means holding ourselves accountable to others and setting a good example for all of us, including respecting our heritage.  Being Jewish means being accountable to others for just about every aspect of our behavior.  And that’s a good thing, because it reminds us to constantly try and be better, more ethical, more considerate, more grateful.  And who doesn’t need that reminder? 

May each of us resolve to take to heart this awesome responsibility of Jewish accountability to our people.  In this endeavor, hazak, hazak, v’nithazek.  May we be strong and strengthened.  

Shabbat shalom! 

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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb