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Being a Member of the Jewish People

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement, taught that before a person chooses to practice Judaism, that is live Jewishly, she must first desire to belong to, to be a part of, the Jewish people. We see the wisdom of this teaching reflected in parashat Lech Lecha. "In that day God made a covenant with Abram saying: 'To your seed I have given this land..." (Genesis 15.18). This covenant established a nation. It marked off a specific place for a people, a minimal definition of nationality. With this, Torah introduces the idea of covenant of place. To be able to say "this is my place" is tantamount to saying I belong here.

Later in Exodus, Torah describes another covenant between the descendents of Abraham and God. "And he [Moses] took the book of the covenant and read it aloud to the people, and they said, 'All that God has spoken we will do and obey'". (Exodus 24.7) This is a covenant of doing or acting. It details how one lives or practices Judaism. This is only offered after the covenant of place because, as Rabbi Kaplan suggested, a sense of belonging to the Jewish people must necessarily precede the decision to live Jewishly.

Today in our postmodern world, we understand that the idea of covenant of place can be quite problematic. We also know that what leads to a sense of belonging is not easily identified. Our ancestors of the last 2000 years eased the Jewish people away from relying on the idea of covenant of place in favor of the covenant of doing, otherwise known as religion. This still makes sense. However, as Torah subtly points out, and Rabbi Kaplan explicitly states, the motivation to live Jewishly is predicated on the desire to belong to the Jewish people.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah