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January 22, 2012 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Bo

At the end of this week’s portion, the Torah states “it shall be a sign upon thy hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes, for by strength of hand God brought us out of Egypt.'” (Ex. 13:16).   Nachmanides notes that this phrase refers to the mitzvah of tefillin (the little leather straps Orthodox and Conservative men wear during morning prayers)*.  He points out that the tefililn include large chunks of Exodus 13 (which contains various Passover-related commandments), as well as parts of Deuteronomy referring to “the Unity of God …[and] the doctrine of retribution [for sins].”  Thus, this fundamental Jewish ritual contains both universal elements (relating to God) and more particular elements (relating to Passover).   He goes on to say that all of these portions of the Torah are in one compartment of the tefillin, reflecting the “perfect unity” of God.

Indeed, many Jewish rituals contain both universal and particular elements.  For example, the Aleinu prayer begins by distinguishing Jews from the pagans of old,. and ends by calling for all of mankind to worship God.  All of which makes sense- without being particular and different, we can’t survive, because our children (well, nephews and nieces in my case) will not see Judaism as important enough to want to marry Jews.  On the other hand, without having some share in universal morality and some willingness to be supportive of to the rest of mankind, are we really worth preserving?

Ultimately, this trade-off is what divides Jews: the most extreme Orthodox are the least focused on the rest of mankind, while the most extreme Reformers have gone too far (in my view) in blurring the distinctions between Jews and everyone else.

*Reform Jews almost never have morning minyans to my knowledge, so I am not counting them.  I honestly do not know if any Reconstructionist synagogues do.

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One Comment

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  1. Shira Salamone / Jan 27 2012 12:22 pm

    ” . . . the most extreme Orthodox are the least focused on the rest of mankind, while the most extreme Reformers have gone too far (in my view) in blurring the distinctions between Jews and everyone else.”

    That seems to me to be an accurate assessment. Striking a balance seems to be more in keeping with what the rabbis from whom we learned our rituals had in mind.

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