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The Burdens of Freedom

by Rabbi Myer S. Kripke

Our Sidrah closes the Book of Exodus. The Children of Israel have built themselves a sanctuary to serve them in the wilderness where they now find themselves. They have escaped Egypt; they have received the Commandments and the law at Sinai; they have a priesthood and a sanctuary, and now what? Where do we go from here? The burdens of freedom fall on them without mercy.

There is actually a rabbinic interpretation that suggests that the 40 years of wilderness wandering was a period of getting their bearings, of learning to accept freedom, and preparing to enter the Land a free people.

This helps us to get a perspective on the problems of Jewish life in America. Quite aside from the problems of attacks on Jews as such, there are internal problems which we have not mastered.

There is first of all an intellectual burden. We are all familiar with the phenomenon of the educated Jew, who may have two or three or five college degrees, perhaps attained eminence in a profession, and who has only a child’s approach to Judaism. How can he cope with the age of science, versus the small child’s naive ideas about religious insights?

And there is the burden of affluence. We are learning about great pockets of Jewish poverty, but for the most part, Jews are part of the great middle class, even upper middle class, of American society. In these circumstances there are simply too many diversions that lure Jews away from Jewish religious practices and Jewish learning. And for a minority group, self-knowledge is the very foundation of group survival.

There is the burden of giving financial and psychological support to Jews elsewhere in the world, in lands of oppression and never-ending danger. All this would be good, but for the fact that it substitutes philanthropy for religious depth.

Our Sidrah gives a kind of “accounting” for all the gifts to the Sanctuary of the Wilderness.

It is not too far afield for us to consider that we ought to be requiring a constant accounting of ourselves: How are we meeting our responsibilities? For responsibilities are the first mark of freedom.