A number of people have asked me to share my answers to the questions I pose in my Thursday email. Although my sermons are mere responses to these questions, and never answers, I am thankful for the request. I share here a summary of Friday's drasha. For the full, detailed, version you have to come to Shabbat Services.
The Torah speaks with a certainty about life and death, reward and punishment that is contrary to our real world experience. "You shall observe My laws and faithfully keep My rules, that you may live upon the land in security..." As much as I would like to say that the more you observe the more you get it is not true.
So my question for this week is why should we observe. I reject the notion that we should observe out of reward and punishment. I don't want our Torah to become a protective amulet. This is demeaning to our greatest book. Such a view makes the Torah into a mere to do list.
Why observe? Why do Jewish things? Why eat matzah? Why give tzedakah? Why light Shabbat candles? Why not steal? Let us recall that doing Jewish things is about the ethical as much as about the ritual. There are two simple reasons why we observe. Observance gives meaning to our lives. It points to something bigger and something greater. And ritual observance points us toward our ethical obligations.
The grand purpose of our tradition is not the length of our own individual years but instead to better our world. According to our tradition, the world is waiting to be completed by our hands. The question of why bad things happen to good people will forever remain a mystery. You can do a lot or a little. I can't promise you long life. I can promise you a connection to something greater. I can promise you a life of meaning and a life of purpose.
Hold the Torah close to your heart. Study its words not out of fear of punishment, or promise of reward, but for the sake of something greater: a life of meaning, and even more important, a better world.