FROM THE RABBI’S DESK – MISHPATIM:
Having just returned from Los Angeles joining some of our congregants in attending the wedding of Noah and Elana Zeligman, I was struck by three contradicting elements that mark the life style that is so typically California. The first was the strong, vibrant orthodox community of LA with its numerous institutions, and the second was the vapid, empty life that depicts the existence of tinsel town in that city with the media and others hovering over the rich and famous that populate Beverly Hills and other wealthy vistas. The third was the vast poverty and homelessness that pervades the LA landscape.
While taking the required tour of the city and the homes of the overly wealthy of LA, I could not help feeling as others were taking pictures of these large estates how the inhabitants had to live behind closed gates in a gilded ghetto type of existence. While others were gawking at the size and scope of these properties, I was wondering if these people could live a type of life that would enable to truly enjoy what G-d has given them instead of engaging in debauchery, intoxication and addiction.
The Torah this week projects a life of meaning and value as opposed to one filled with vices in the form of two words that signify what it means to be a Jew especially in a society which demands acculturation and assimilation. The words of Naaseh venishma, “we will do and we will listen” come forth from the people of Israel as they prepared to receive the word of G-d at Sinai. No hesitation, no recalculation, but a firm acceptance of G-d’s law to uphold and to fulfill on a daily basis both ritually and in the practical application of the interrelationship between G-d and the Jew.
Our commentaries write that these two words of affirmation refer to not only the written text, but to the Oral Tradition as well. The Torah Shebealpeh, the Oral Tradition, is the mechanism by which the Jews can fully apply the tenets and principles of Halachah to their lives in all of their facets. The Oral Torah encompassing the Talmud is a necessary ingredient for the perpetuation and continuity of our people. The study and application of the laws explained in the Talmud as well as the Aggadah discussed there enhance our ability to make our lives religiously meaningful and spiritually uplifting.
It is therefore wonderful to read about the recent Talmud program available in digital form in English with commentaries through www.sefaria.org which enhances the Steinsaltz, Soncino and Artscroll editions of the Talmud to make Talmud accessible to all. Jewish life whether it be in Los Angeles or Ottawa takes on special meaning with the availability of such resources to the entire Jewish community and not just to the erudite few.