May 10, 2001
Our Moment of Truth
The Orthodox community should take advantage of the firestorm created by Rabbi David Wolpe's Exodus sermon to make its own compelling case. What we need right now is more light, not more heat. I'd love to see us share that light.
We can start by reminding the world, for instance, that the Orthodox also love science, but we use it for a special purpose: to increase our reverence for God. We don't wallow in that most inexact of sciences -- archaeology -- because we prefer the science of endless awe over the science of endless speculation.
We're in awe at the moment of a baby's birth, when the 71 miracle steps that must happen before that baby can join us on earth. We study the science of the human body and marvel at its divine intricacy.
Science itself does not increase or decrease our faith, which is unshakable and unconditional. Instead, it increases our humility before the Creator. We don't use science to try to prove God; if we could, we wouldn't need faith. We use science as our binoculars to better see God and his miracles, and to express our infinite gratitude.
We don't study everything under the sun simply because "everything comes from God." Rather, we put a priority on whatever nourishes our spirit and brings us closer to God. This is mainly Torah, but also everything on earth -- including art and music -- that adds to our appreciation for divine beauty.
We don't agonize over questions like "Did God actually split the Red Sea?" because we don't need to: Every day, we see how God splits a million Red Seas. Our struggle is not one of academic dilemmas, but one of how to become a better Jew. We love a good debate, but it's not a substitute for action.
The truth we seek is the timeless truth of Torah, our unique gift from from God at Sinai that introduced morality to the world. For thousands of years, it is the truth that has set us free, and we are awed at its power to continue to do so.
Our faith is not a theoretical exercise but a jumping point, and we express it through the practice of mitzvot. We don't need to declare or debate faith, because we live it every time we light a Shabbat candle, recite a blessing or help a homeless person.
Our courage lives in our actions. We confront the mundane and live to sanctify it. We brave the elements of popular dogmas -- instant gratification, moral relativism, assimilation -- and strive to create homes that are fortresses to godliness and Jewish survival. On the road to Jewish continuity, we are the infantry, and, we confess, there is a certain pride in that.
We have plenty of questions, many of them practical: Are we doing enough for the Land of Israel? Are we missing any mitzvah opportunities? Are we learning enough Torah? Are we teaching enough Torah?
We believe our message is especially relevant to the modern world. Many people today crave spiritual connection. They feel betrayed by their doubts, because doubts rarely move the soul. They want their religion to transcend these doubts, not formalize them.
At the end of the day, Torah is both their sanctuary of certainty in an uncertain world and their spiritual roadmap to meaningful action. It teaches that what we do as Jews is more important than what we may or may not believe. Action, not archaeology, is what keeps us honest and our Judaism alive.
Regarding my friend Rabbi Wolpe, let's remember that his Exodus sermon was essentially a passionate articulation of the longstanding Conservative position. True, he made it very public, but did we expect it would be kept forever under wraps? Wasn't it bound to come out sooner or later? The eternal reality of Judaism is this: Unity doesn't mean uniformity, and diversity shouldn't mean animosity.
The smart response is to avoid losing our heads, rise to the challenge and make our own compelling case with strength and dignity. This "firestorm" is not a threat, it's an opportunity. Have you ever seen such excitement over anything biblical?
Judaism has indeed made it to prime time, and our moment of truth has arrived. Let's light it up.