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Sticking to tradition

  • Parshas Ki Tetze - Rabbi Yossi Goldman
How important is tradition in Judaism? Obviously, very important. There is even a major song in the musical Fiddler on the Roof devoted to tradition!
by Rabbi Yossy Goldman, Sydenham Shul | Jan 17, 2019

In spite of the effects of secularism, there is still a need for us to feel connected to our roots, our heritage, and a sense of belonging to the Jewish people.

But for vast numbers of our people, tradition is not enough. Not only for the rebellious among us, but for many ordinary thinking people who decided that to do something just because “that’s the way it has always been done” is simply not good enough.

So what if my grandfather did it? My grandfather rode around in a horse and buggy! And if my bobba never got a university degree, why shouldn’t I? Just because my grandparents practiced certain Jewish traditions, why must I? Perhaps those traditions are as obsolete as the horse and buggy.

There are masses of Jews who think this way, and who will not be convinced to behave in a Jewish way just because their grandparents did.

We need to tell them why their grandparents did it. They need to understand that their grandparents’ traditions were not just for tradition’s sake, but for very good reasons. And those same rationales still hold today.

Too many young people are put off tradition because some cheder teacher didn’t take their questions seriously. They were silenced with a wave of the hand, a pinch of the ear, or the classic, “When you get older, you’ll understand”.

There are answers. There have always been answers. All our traditions are founded on substance and have intelligible, credible underpinnings. There are only a handful of mitzvahs that require a leap of faith. If we seek answers, we will find them in abundance; including many layers of meaning, from the simple to the symbolic to the philosophical, even the mystical.

This week’s parsha features the Song of the Sea, sung by Moses and the Jewish people following the splitting of the sea and their miraculous deliverance from the Egyptian armies. Early on, we find the verse, “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him, the G-d of my fathers and I will exalt Him.”

The sequence is significant. First comes “my G-d”, and only thereafter the “G-d of my fathers”. While the “G-d of our fathers” – in other words tradition – plays a very important role in Judaism, an indispensable prerequisite is that we must make G-d ours, personally. Every Jew must develop a personal relationship with G-d.

Authentic Judaism has never shied away from questions. Every page of the Talmud is filled with questions – and answers. You don’t have to wait for the Pesach seder to ask a question.

When we think, ask, and find answers to our faith, then the traditions of our grandparents come alive. Once a tradition has become ours, we then realise that this very same practice has been observed uninterruptedly by our ancestors for many centuries, tradition then becomes a powerful force that can inspire us forever.

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