The Torah declares this week: “…to walk in my statutes and keep My commandments.”
I was speaking with someone of our congregation who expressed something very provocative to me. We were talking about Jewish identity and he said: “I’m really not a religious Jew; I’m a cultural Jew.” And I think I understand what he meant. And it could very well be that he was speaking for a great many Jews in expressing the truth that while Jewish “religious” observance and ritual do not have a primary place in his daily life, he does nevertheless feel a very strong attachment, not only to other Jews, but to the social and moral value system that we Jews continue to cherish.
Here is a Jew who declares, “I’m not religious,” but who takes his family to Israel, who educates his children and who sees to it that they become Bar and Bat Mitzvah. He is a man who is charitable and upright in his dealings, even as he declares that he’s “not religious.” And yet, I would maintain that at the very heart of his identity as a Jew there is Torah. For it is in Torah that our whole Jewish ethical and moral value system is rooted. It is in Torah that we learn that the highest form of “religious” living is so much concerned, not with ritual or with prayer, but with values like righteousness, loving, kindness, and reverence for life and for the “miracle” that human life really is.
For us as Jews, whether we define ourselves as “religious” or as “cultural” Jews, still it is the same Torah that declares to us that life is a sacred opportunity and challenge. For in a world where we often wonder “Where is God?” our challenge is to cause the Divine presence to be felt through our actions and our deeds of kindness. Yes, for us, to be “religious” is to live all of this with conviction and dedication.