Letting the Light of Torah Shine

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


Letting the Light of Torah Shine

Based on a sicha by Harav Yehuda Amital


It seems that even at the time of the Chashmonaim, Torah-faithful Jews were faced with a weighty question: is it worth continuing to illuminate the world and to spread the message of Judaism? The price that the nation paid for its involvement in Greek culture was high - almost unbearably high. But the miracle of the oil was seen and continues to serve as a sort of Divine message that we should continue to be a "light unto the nations" - even if not always in the open and in public, at least the light should be placed at the entrance to the house, and at a time of danger even a light placed on the table inside will suffice.

In our times, we are witness to various attempts on the part of religious Jewry in Israel to influence the secular sector, with the aim of inculcating basic Jewish values. For the past fifty years, religious educators have sought an appropriate avenue of communication with the secular community. One of the most popular solutions is to talk about Judaism in terms of a "cultural heritage," of sociological, national, moral messages, etc., but without basing all of this in faith in God; the religious element is left out.

Indeed, this solution should not be rejected outright. We can certainly derive from the Torah a very rich and wide-ranging "cultural heritage," but we have to know that the price we pay for this approach is high. The "soul" of Judaism is belief in God. All of its power and loftiness are derived from this fundamental faith. When we try to distill national, esthetic and folkloric elements from within Judaism while ignoring its principal theme, we empty it of its content, and ultimately these "secondary" themes, which drew their strength from the power of our faith, are likewise emptied of meaning and lose their value.

Thus we have paid a price for the attempt to follow this educational route. The first price relates to ourselves: we have accustomed ourselves to using the language more appropriate for an attempt to educate those who are distant from their religious roots. Words such as "God," "Torah," and "mitzvot" have been avoided, while instead we have begun speaking in "cultural" terms - "tradition," "heritage," etc. We also have paid a price from the point of view of our influence externally, in that the secular population that we have tried to educate believes that what it has learned is Judaism in its authentic form.

How may we describe the situation today? There are some groups among the secular population who are "seeking their roots." They recognize the fact that that the cultural creation is diluted when it is not anchored in the heritage of the past, in the Torah of Israel. On the other hand, there are other groups that subscribe to an ideal of absolute freedom - meaning, to their understanding, lawlessness: an a priori rejection of any sort of authority or obligation; "Do whatever you feel like doing."

With regard to this latter group we can only hope that with the passage of time they will also come to realize that the absence of a defining framework creates a vacuum. The only language in which we can speak to them at this stage is the familiar language of "personal example." To this end we must build a religious community that excels in three main areas:

i. morality;

ii. candor;

iii. readiness to accept personal responsibility, and avoidance of the "it's not my problem" phenomenon.

May we be inspired by the example of the Chashmonaim and keep the pure light of Torah burning for all to see.

(This sicha was delivered on Chanuka 5753 [1992]. It was summarized by Benny Holzman and translated by Kaeren Fish.)


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