Noah: No Jewish missionaries, just a Jewish mission.

Although the annual prescribed period for Jews to engage in intense introspection has just passed, it’s always timely to ask ourselves these two questions: 

1.    What is the fundamental purpose of my life?  
2.    How does “being Jewish” inform or affect my life’s purpose?  

This week’s Torah portion, Noah, is universalistic.  Although we Jews regard the Hebrew Bible primarily as the narrative of our people’s formation and encounter (through about the third century B.C.E.) with G-d, Noah was not a Jew.  Living many generations before Moses, there were no Jews.  Yet, he was acknowledged as a righteous man in a world of chaos, violence, and corruption.  

Quite obviously, therefore, G-d did not consider being Jewish as a prerequisite to righteousness.  

What about after the Torah was revealed to Moses and the Israelites?  Did Torah then become the way for human salvation from evil and/or the only way for humans to exhibit righteousness?  If so, G-d – and his prophet, Moses – would undoubtedly have urged/required all Jews to then and thereafter work tirelessly to convert all the world’s peoples “into the faith.”  

But not only does the Hebrew Bible not require Jews to seek converts to Judaism, it does not even suggest that anyone should convert!  Seek and acknowledge G-d, yes.  Become Jews and practice Judaism, no.  

From the Book of Ruth famously developed the practice of rabbis actively discouraging conversion to Judaism.  Even at the end of every worship service, when we look ahead to “That Day on which the Lord shall be One and His Name Shall be One," we do not look to a world in which everyone is Jewish.  [I am imagining a joke in which a Cantor turns to the Rabbi after singing this prayer and murmers, “A world in which everyone is like us?! G-d forbid!"] 

Judaism holds only that Judaism is the right path – commanded by G-d -- for Jews, including anyone who sincerely wishes to become Jewish, assume the obligations of Torah and mitzvot, and thus join the path, mission, and destiny of the Jewish people.  We are neither exclusive nor triumphalistic. 

That Judaism does not consider Judaism necessary for non-Jews is expressed in Psalm 115, which we sing on Rosh Chodesh [the start of each new month of the Jewish calendar, which is regarded as a kind of festival day] – this week, coinciding with Shabbat: 

He will bless the House of Israel; 
He will bless the House of Aaron; 
He will bless those who fear G-d.  

The principles that allowed Noah to be righteous, that is, to “fear G-d,” have come to be known as the “Noahide laws.”  In abbreviated form, they are:

1.    Acknowledge the existence, uniqueness, and supremacy of G-d.
2.    Do not profane G-d.
3.    Respect human life.
4.    Respect marriage.
5.    Respect the rights and property of others.
6.    Respect G-d’s creatures.
7.    Maintain justice. 
According to Judaism, anyone except a Jew can be holy and righteous by adhering to these seven laws.  A Jew, though, must adhere to Torah and mitzvoth.  Not because a Jew is better or worse than a non-Jew, but simply (if profoundly) because G-d established Torah observance as the fundamental purpose of Jewish life. 

That is, “being Jewish” means “doing Jewish.”  Whenever I hear that someone “is” Jewish, I think; that’s nice, but are they living as a Jew?  Contributing in some way to the strengthening and survival of the Jewish people through observance of Torah and mitzvot? If not, what’s the point of "being Jewish?"  

Other people(s) have their purpose and path, fine and proper for them.   We shouldn’t forget that.  

But we have our purpose and path. We mustn’t forget that. 

And so, if you are Jewish, I invite you to ask yourself, and keep asking yourself:

1.    What is the fundamental purpose of your life?  
2.    How does “being Jewish” inform or affect your life’s purpose?

Shabbat shalom and chodesh tov from Jerusalem. 

(Thanks to Rabbi Joshua Adler of Jerusalem for inspiring this D’var Torah). 

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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