Congregation B'nai Jacob of Park Slope
With a heavy heart I dedicate this month’s message to the memory of Moshe Nadav Mejicovsky Robinson, son of Zelig and Tali, a young boy from our community who returned his soul to its maker less than 30 days ago. I have very fond memories of Nadav, who would come to Shul each year for the High Holidays despite his medical condition, and bring a smile to everyone's faces. I clearly remember him standing next to his father and grandfather in front of the Ark this past Yom Kippur for Neilah. He had a fighting spirit and was a very special young boy. I wish his parents and grandparents, Joel and Diana, long life and Nachas from their children and grandchildren.
At Nadav’s funeral, his father shared a little about the young boy's life and the inspirational impact he had on so many people in his few years. Something he said resonated with me and I have been thinking about it a lot recently.
Nadav had a rare heart condition and spent a lot of his life in and out of the hospital and visiting doctors. One of the top doctors who cared for Nadav told his parents that before he can give an opinion on a course of treatment he had to get to know him better. Only after spending time with Nadav and watching him for a while did he feel comfortable prescribing a course of treatment. His reasoning was simple yet profound. “Neither I or the medicine heal him,” the doctor said, “He heals himself. We can only guide the best way for him to do so. Without knowing him how can we know what treatment will work?”
This approach struck me as radically profound. Real care has to be personal. You can’t give an opinion on a child’s medical condition if you don’t know the child. You can’t pretend to be serving someone if you don’t know them.
As I digested James’ words, the Rabbi in me kicked in, and I saw this as an important lesson about our relationship with Judaism. We all have a lot of engagements with Yiddishkeit. Whether it be Shabbat dinner, going to Shul or doing Chessed, we spend time serving G-d.We each develop our own approach to experiencing it. We find certain practices more meaningful, and we focus on those. They are our personal channel to connect to G-d. But can we really develop a connection with Hashem if we haven't gotten to know Him?
The doctor’s words taught me that we have to know who we are serving before we can properly serve Him. To have a meaningful engagement with Judaism - for our Mitzvos to mean something to us – we have to get to know the One that commanded them. We have to study His Torah and discover Him. Only then can we find connection and healing in the practice of Judaism.
This idea particularly struck me last week in the context of the inaugural oath. Tradition has it that each new President is sworn in with an oath, made over a Bible. The Bible is intended to give the oath its credibility and makes it binding. Essentially, the power of the most powerful person in America rests on the sanctity of the Bible. The immutable belief in G-d is the foundation of our trust in the President. In fact, since Franklin D. Roosevelt every President has added at the end of the oath the words ‘So help me G-d’, a phrase not included in the constitutional formula.
But is an oath made in the name of the Bible worth much if the person swearing doesn’t respect its contents? Can we put trust in someone's word that they hang on a text that they don't know? For an oath in the Bible’s and G-d’s name to be impactful, the one taking it has to believe in their eternal significance. I think that before an oath is administered on a Bible, the one making the oath should have to pledge to keep the laws of the Bible. When the word of G-d means something to them, then the word given on its back means something too.
We all do things for G-d, but like the oath, those acts can sometimes be hollow if we aren't aware of who the G-d we are serving is. Like every relationship, to connect with G-d, you have to get to know Him, at least a little. You have to study the texts that He gave to us to live by and make this world a better place.
I encourage you to make a commitment, however small, to study Torah. Be it once a week or every day, find some time to get to know what Judaism has to say on relevant topics. Get to know the religion you call your own. It may surprise you that the Judaism you discover is far deeper than the one you thought you knew. You’ll then be able to form a meaningful relationship with it and with G-d.
In the Zohar (III:270a) it is written that by virtue of Torah study we will return to the Holy Land and be gathered in from the exile. May we merit that through deepening our knowledge of G-d we will indeed see the coming of Moshiach, a time about which Maimonides wrote (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Kings 12:5): The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God. Amen.
A Gut Chodesh,
Rabbi Shimon Hecht