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Reciprocating God’s Love and Celebrating Jewish History

April 26, 2015

Normal loving relationships require certain regular and sincere expressions. Parents need to do certain things for their children, and spouses also have their obligations, enshrined in both Torah and secular law. No man can expect his marriage to last if he refuses to ever show his wife love in the right way. The same holds true for one’s relationship with God. There is a commandment to love God, and the rabbinic literature is filled with aggadic and halachic teachings that relate to this. The sages described Israel’s loving relationship with God as being allegorized in the Song of Songs, and Maimonides composed a book of laws dedicated to the commandments through which we demonstrate our love for Him.

Earlier I wrote about the necessity of establishing holidays to commemorate historical events because human beings are liable to eventually forget those events and their significance. Although Passover and the Exodus were the birth of the free and monotheist Jewish people, they still need to remind themselves of that through the regular performance of hundreds of commandments, lest they forget. I also wrote about how the failure of many rabbis to firmly establish holiday rituals for both Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day despite their enthusiasm for the miracles and their recognition of divine intervention has led to the latter generations’ not appreciating, not knowing, not caring about, and not approving of the State of Israel and its related holidays.

In the essay And Joseph Dreamt a Dream, Rabbi Soloveichik wrote about how the Holocaust led him to change his views on Zionism. Whereas his family had traditionally been anti, he saw the errors of their ways and spent the subsequent decades forging a new path. But when it came to ritual and halachic observance of the new holidays, he wavered. Hallel? Half Hallel? With a blessing? Among his students, his exact position is a matter of dispute, but many have been vocal that he himself did not say Hallel. I heard such from Rabbi Abba Bronspigel many times. And many of his students had their own practices. I do not believe that Rabbis Riskin, Lichtenstein, or Schachter ever agreed on exactly how to to observe Israeli Independence Day. The consequences? The bigger the deal Independence Day is at an institution of Jewish learning, the more the students are into Zionism, and in the places where it has not been marked in a religious manner, the students are more and more anti. In this light, we can hope that if Rabbi Soloveichik were still around, he would have had another change of heart, and advocate for more ritual observance of the new holidays.

I would like to offer another argument for more ritual observance. In the silent prayer for the festivals, we declare:

You chose us from among all the nations, You loved us and desired us, and You raised us up among all the languages and sanctified us with Your commandments, and You drew us close to your service, and You called your great and holy name upon us. And you lovingly gave us appointed times for gladness, holidays and seasons for rejoicing.

That is, one way God shows His Love for us is by giving us holidays, i.e., by saving and redeeming us at historical junctures, thereby providing us with annual dates of celebration. God gave us Passover when he showed us His love by bringing us out of Egypt. This idea is also described extensively by our Rabbis. How do we reciprocate His love? We celebrate those holidays the way halacha and tradition prescribe that we celebrate them, by praising God and feasting, and by spending our free time studying God’s Torah.

This year I appealed to all of those who love God and feel His love in return to think beyond the usual technical disagreements about what to do on Independence Day, and listen to what their Jewish souls were telling them to do when the time comes to recognize God’s love. 

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From → halacha, original

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