By Rabbi Mordechai Levin
Judaism is the religion of ethical monotheism, a system of religious beliefs and practices, and the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people, which highlights the belief in God, the observance of the commandments, the study of Torah and the importance of community.
It can give us the guidance and direction to most fully actualize the purpose for which God has chosen the Jewish people: to be God’s witnesses (Hebrew Bible, Isaiah 43:10), and to be a light unto the nations (Isaiah 42:6).
Judaism can enrich the lives of Jews who embrace its beliefs, values and ideals. It can fill our lives with holiness and meaning. It can teach us a way of living in this world that promotes joy inside of us and also promotes ethical behavior.
Rabbi Harold Kushner explained it in this way: “Judaism can save your life from being wasted, from being spent on the trivial. Judaism is a way of making sure that you don’t spend your whole life, with its potential for holiness, on eating, sleeping, and paying your bills. It is a guide to investing your life in things that really matter, so that your life will matter. It comes to teach you how to transform pleasure into joy and celebration, how to feel like an extension of God by doing what God does, taking the ordinary and making it holy. The ultimate goal is to transform the world into the kind of world God had in mind when He created it.”
Judaism can teach us how to improve the world. It possesses many principles embraced by the Western world. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach mentions the following principles – among others:
The belief in the brotherhood of mankind and in the equality and infinite value and dignity of all human beings.
Human beings are empowered with freedom of choice, must have values by which to live, and each individual is more than the sum total of his actions.
Man is not master of the earth, but must seek to be one with the universe, protecting all life and the environment. The world is enriched by cultural and ethnic diversity.
The family is the bedrock of society and the most important social unit. Men and women are different but equal.
The most beautiful things in life are those that, like love, are invisible, transcendent, and cannot be experienced with the five senses.
Humans need not bow their heads in submission in the face of seeming divine injustice, and humans must never accept the suffering of their fellow men in silence.
Man must do the right thing because it is right, even if that makes him unpopular or jeopardizes his vital interest. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is far more important than waiting for the proper motivation.
In the words of Rabbi Boteach: “Judaism has imparted a wealth of content and meaning to the lives of the earth’s inhabitants. Judaism is not just a collection of ideas. More significantly, it is a program of action by which to bring Godly ethics and values to mankind, ensuring that they take root within the individual and each successive generation.”
Judaism helps us in answering life’s most fundamental questions, such as, “how did I come to this world?” and, “Now that I am here, how should I live?” Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel summarized the meaning of Judaism by stating that Judaism is an answer to the ultimate problems of the individual and of society.
For these principles and everything else that Judaism teaches us, we give thanks every day in our morning prayers: “Therefore it is our duty to thank You and praise You, to glorify and sanctify Your name. How good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our heritage. How blessed are we that twice each day, morning and evening, we are privileged to declare: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God the Lord is One.”