Everything You Need to Know About Judaism

This sheet on Deuteronomy 10 was written by Bradley Shavit Artson for 929 and can also be found here

One of the perks of coming to appreciate Judaism as an adult is that I came to the Torah with fresh eyes. There were no bad experiences or teachers to forget, whatever text I learned was new and clean. So I well remember as a young 20 year old, buying my own Torah and commentary for the first time (eternal thanks to Rabbi Gunther Plaut, ztz”l!)

One thrilling day, I reached Deuteronomy 10:12 – 19 and these words rang in my ears with a powerful lure toward holiness. I typed out the words and pasted them inside my new traditional prayerbook (thank you, Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, ztz”l!). Each day I would read them as a summary and a reminder of everything I held dear. Imagine my delight, years later in rabbinical school, to discover in the words of the ancient rabbis, that they saw this passage, Parashat Ha-Yirah/the Section of Awe, as the very quintessence of what Judaism is all about.

It begins with a question (how very Jewish!): what does God demand of us? And it answers with an oscillation of mutually enhancing opposites (behavior and belief, outer and inner), (1) reverence, (2) walking only in God’s paths, (3) loving God, (4) serving God will our entire hearts and souls. The section closes by noting that the mitzvot are given for our benefit, the life-enhancing gift of a loving God.

The second unit offers paradoxes: God is sovereign over all that is, the heavens and the earth, yet, in that very grandeur, chose our little people, our ancestors, with a love that burns with an erotic heat (that’s what chashak implies). That passion passes from our ancestors to us, to this very day. We are so reliably adored that we can risk circumcising our hearts and unstiffening our necks. That is to say, only someone utterly confident that they will be cherished can risk letting themselves feel the pain of other people’s lives, can be open to the flexibility that the needs of others requires. We are called to be those flexible, empathic, healing people.

Final section: God’s greatness is above all monarchs, all empires, all clusters of power. And it is the true measure of God’s greatness not to coerce all others, but to care for the orphan, the widowed, and the stranger. God’s greatness is manifest in concern for the weak and the marginalized, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. And we, God’s beloved, we who have known being strangers in Egypt, we carry a special obligation — like God — to do the same.

That’s all you need to know about Judaism: cosmic theology, entering into a love relationship that manifests in risking the pain and joys of all living things, and then rising in that love to care for each other and to repair the world. That, and only that, will make us great again.

Rabbi Dr Bradley Shavit Artson is the Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is Vice President of American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

929 is the number of chapters in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, the formative text of the Jewish heritage. It is also the name of a cutting-edge project dedicated to creating a global Jewish conversation anchored in the Hebrew Bible. 929 English invites Jews everywhere to read and study Tanakh, one chapter a day, Sunday through Thursday together with a website with creative readings and pluralistic interpretations, including audio and video, by a wide range of writers, artists, rabbis, educators, scholars, students and more. As an outgrowth of the web-based platform, 929 English also offers classes, pop-up lectures, events and across North America. We invite you to learn along with us and be part of our dynamic community.

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