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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

November 4, 2016  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

By head, heart or hands, all Jews can climb the ladder

By RABBI JACOB LUSKI Congregation B’nai Israel, St. Petersburg

A modern Jew ought to cast aside the alienating view that Jewish observance is “all or nothing.”

In our synagogues, Jews at all levels of observance are encouraged and welcomed to come aboard and to grow. We rebut the logic implied by the following: “Since I am not fully Shabbat observant, why should I come to Shabbat services? Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite?” Our community synagogues answer, “No.” Incorporating mitzvot into our lives is not a matter of “all or nothing.”

A Jewish person is not hypocritical if he or she sincerely begins a gradual ascent into ever more steps of commitment. Instead, that person is climbing “the ladder of commandments.” In this manner, rung by rung each of us can become ever closer to God and to a godly mode of living.

“All or nothing” thinking is inappropriate since “all,” the very top of the ladder, is reserved for God alone. No human being can achieve perfection in observance. By the same token no living person is at the bottom of the ladder, exhibiting commitment to “nothing” whatsoever. Every living Jew either intentionally or unintentionally fulfills certain mitzvot – e.g., attending a Passover Seder, fasting on Yom Kippur, lighting Hanukah candles, showing respect for one’s parents, contributing tzedaka, refraining from murder and so forth.

The goal of the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis through our local synagogues is to assist each person to be a “striving Jew.” Each of us must identify his or her location on three ladders of mitzvot: Torah – sacred study, Avodah – prayer and rituals, and Gemilut Hasadim – acts of loving kindness. Although each one of us has affinities toward all three modes of commitment, some Jews are Head Jews, with a primary affinity toward Judaic learning. Others are Heart Jews, attracted to Judaism’s spiritual disciplines. Yet others are Hand Jews, drawn to perform interpersonal acts that “bring the world toward greater perfection.”

At one’s own pace, certain individual Heart Jews in our midst will be more prone to kasher their homes, to adopt a traditional discipline of prayer, and to observe Shabbat and holidays. Head Jews will be those most likely to become attracted to Judaic study opportunities. Hand Jews tend to be receptive to engagement in our congregation’s caring – Gemilut Hasadim committee, social action projects, Sisterhood, Men’s Club, congregational board and committees. Each realm, Head, Heart or Hand of Jewish growth is sacred. Moreover, each mitzvah incorporated into the life of an individual Jew is transformative.

The motto of our synagogues should be: “I seek to be a striving Jew, trying to ascend a ladder of mitzvot.”

All Jews are welcome.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.


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