Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Parshas Ki Savo
The summer is just about over and I did absolutely nothing with my children. We needed to arrange a day trip that would be entertaining, educational, inexpensive and above all fast. My wife decided that we would go to Ellis Island. I will spare you the details involved in taking my entire family anywhere but we got there. As you probably realize the way to get to Ellis Island is on a ferryboat. We decided that we were going to try the to recreate the experience that six of our eight grandparents went through. Let’s put ourselves in their place. And there we were on the upper deck of a boat passing by the Statue of Liberty, arriving not from Monsey but from Lemburg, Nova Odessa, Poland and the Ukraine. We were running away from the Pogroms, the Holocaust leaving much of our immediate family behind hoping to someday be able to send them a ticket. There we were, one of us with an eye infection which could mean immediate denial of entry, all of us impoverished wondering whether freedom will accept us into its arms and if it does where will we sleep, eat and find something to sell. I looked at the island; I looked at my children with their Yarmulkes and Tzitzis, probably a sight that our grandparents couldn’t even dream about. I looked back a generation and forward a generation. I stood on a bridge between the past and the future. Unlike the 5,000 immigrants a year that were turned away, G-d decided that we were to be. The experience was so powerful I began to cry.
“You shall say today before Hashem, ‘I have arrived in the Land, G-d’s promise has come true.”
Let’s get in touch with the Kavana of the man or woman bringing his Bikurim to Yerushalayim. He takes his first fruit and joins the parade that accumulates people from all over Israel. The parade is singing and dancing as it marches through all the roads of Israel. The person bringing the Bikurim was not a slave in Egypt but an Israeli - third or tenth generation to live in Israel. Yet he says, “I have arrived in the land.” He connects with his past. He defines himself by his grandparents and tradition. He becomes one with the generations before him and he cries tears of joy and gratitude to Hashem. This is the Mitzvah of Bikurim. Once a year to stand before Hashem and identify with our past and see ourselves as a part of G-d’s big plan for the Jewish people.
If someone would wake you up in the middle of the night and ask you, “What are you?” what would you say? There is clearly a Jewish identity crisis happening in the USA. Most American Jews don’t know who they are. Are they Americans, Liberals, lawyers, athletes, musicians, parents, children of survivors or … Jews?
I’d like to put before you today the curse and the blessing. In the early eighties at the beginning of the Internet someone by the name of Jennifer posted the following request. “Can someone please send the text for an interfaith marriage ceremony?” I decided to answer her request and I would like to read it to you my suggestion today.
How about the following statement by the Jewish partner:
For untold generations, my ancestors experienced the joys and beauty and splendor of Judaism. True, there were difficult times. But there was always the peace of the Sabbath, the spirituality of the holidays, the sense of continuity whenever a child was born. I hereby renounce that continuity, and declare their joy to be pointless and without merit.
In many eras, my ancestors died as Jews. They stood before the Moslems and chose to die as Jews rather than to renounce their faith. Their spiritual victory against the Crusaders was to die as Jews rather than to renounce their faith. They were shot, gassed, burned, poisoned, buried alive…but they refused to renounce their faith. I now face their souls and their memories, and laugh. Ha Ha! You lose. I quit. It was all in vain!
I now stand before you, my friends and family, and declare that I herewith end a chain of Jews that has lasted thousands of years.
I know that it is possible that my children will choose Judaism. But I want you all to know—as I will want them to know—how much I respect and care about my Jewish heritage. My Judaism means so little to me that I cannot (will not) ask my spouse to accept Judaism. And my religion means so little to me that I will not dignify it by seeking a civil ceremony. Instead, I have found a clergyman whose scorn of Judaism matches mine, and we have arranged this interfaith ceremony. We choose not simply to ignore Jewish tradition. We choose to make a mockery of it.
Exactly the opposite is the ceremony of Bikurim. We define ourselves by our parents and grandparents, by our tradition, by our survival and by our Torah. “And you shall rejoice in all the good that G-d has given you”.
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