What is our task as Jews?

We know that at this time of year we are to do all we can to ask forgiveness of those we've harmed and search within to find ways to make our lives better, but…

What is our “general” task as Jews?

In my Haggadah I write that we face the “tasks that still await us as a people called to service, to a great purpose for which the people of Israel lives: to bring to reality a world of wholeness, and, until that time, the preservation and affirmation of hope.”

But, I'm sure that we have more than one task. So, in the siddur there appear a couple paragraphs that begin:

It is upon us to…

עלינו לשבח לאדון הכל.

It is our responsibility to praise the Master of All.

What does that mean? What are we actually to do?

Many of us have difficulty with “God language”, so, “לאדון הכל” is a nice euphemism to use. But the text goes on…:

לתת גדלה ליוצר בראשית

…to relate the greatness of the Shaper of Creation.

OK. I'm willing to skip the God terminology.

Let's simply say that our task is to be aware of the overwhelming awesomeness of the cosmos in which we find ourselves and tell others about it in such a way that they come to appreciate it as well.


שלא עשנו כגויי בארצות ולא שמנו כמשפחות האדמה.

You're not going to like this, but, I'm afraid it's true (if you look around you'll notice that it seems to be the case)…

Because we (the Jewish people, our history and present circumstances) have not been made, shaped, formed the same as the other peoples of the earth.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have said for many years that every people on the face of the earth is unique. And, not one of them has been made like all the other nations of the earth either. However… as Mark Twain supposedly said:

“Jews are like everyone else, only more so.”

Perhaps we can say it like this: as in one of those IQ test questions where they line up a number of objects and you need to decide, using the song from Sesame Street:

One of these things is not like the others,

One of these things just doesn't belong,

Can you tell which thing is not like the others

By the time I finish my song?

What people escaped from slavery and made the experience the cornerstone of its self-understanding?

What people had its central shrine destroyed (twice!), its leaders carried off to a foreign land and yet not only sang of its eventual return, but did so?

What people is the only known culture that “doesn't use psychoactive plants to effect a change in consciousness”1

That last was a trick question only to prove that all peoples are unique in some way.

Nonetheless, Mark Twain's “more so” still applies.

שלא שם חלקנו כהם וגורלנו ככל-המונם

Our portion is not like theirs and our fate is not like that of the masses.

Well, you can say that again! This summer's actions in Lebanon and the world's response is only the latest example. I won't share with you the litany of issues, neither positive nor negative.

[Pause… does anyone want to talk about this?]

ואנחנו כרעים ומשתחווים ומודים

And therefore (? it's hard to know why… because the presumption of the previous line is that our lot is supposed to be so much better than everyone else's despite what we see happening in the world?) we bow and prostrate ourselves and thank…

לפני מלך מלכי המלכים

the Sovereign, the sovereign of all sovereigns… yes, the prime mover, the Big Cheese, the Force (may it be with you)

הקדוש ברוך הוא

The “KBH” the “Holy One of Blessing” “The One Who Is Unique Beyond All Others”.

[why… again?]

שהוא נוטה שמים ויוסד ארץ

Because, despite, or beyond, all the scientific explanations of why the western sky turns that awesome set of colors some evenings, there is Something Beyond the Sum of all those water molecules and light particles Who spread out the heavens set the foundations of the earth.

ומושב יקרו בשמים ממעל ושכינת עזו בגבהי מרומום

There’s a place for us…

Somewhere (that's not an actual place), but way beyond what we can imagine and comprehend while at the same time deep within us there dwells this “Force” that can “make it so.”

הוא אלהינו

This… is what we call “God”.

אין עוד

There is none else… because everything is a part of this “Something Beyond the Sum”.

אמת מלכינו

Truthfully this is the one (were it only so… if we only paid sufficient attention) from who we accept leadership.

אפס זולתו

There simply is nothing else (who, what could there be “Something Beyond the Sum”?)

And now for the proof…

ככתוב בתורתו

As it is written in Torah… OK, you and I are willing to take these proofs with some large amounts of salt, but it is amazing how much of the world has “bought into that idea”… including billions of Christians and (at least in part) additional billions of Muslims! Pretty freaky if you ask me… oh, and that's another of those items for the list of “One of these things is not like the others”. What other people's normal history is the sacred history of much of the current world's population?

וידעת היום והשבת אל-לבבך כי יי הוא האלוהים  בשמים ממעל ועל-הארץ מתחת אין עוד

[Deuteronomy 4:39]

And you shall know it this day and settle it in your heart that… יהוה… is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath; there is none else.

Phew… that's a lot to deal with in one paragraph.


Therefore… (ah hah!)…

oops, there's more to come. We can't simply get away with being glad for the cosmos and our appreciation of it. No…

נקווה לך יי אלוהינו לראות מהרה בתפארת עזך

We hope that through you יהוה our God… (you're probably not going to like this line) to behold the glory of Your might.

Whoa I thought it was all those other peoples out there who were hoping to rule the world. Do you mean to tell me that we Jews have similar hopes?! Yes, indeed we do. But, you'll notice from what follows that all we Jewish people do (or are to do) is hope! We're not to do anything but what we were to do in the previous paragraph. Listen carefully to the subtlety that follows (after this next line):

להעביר גילולים מן הארץ והאלילים כרות יכרתון

This will be a time when abominations (I won't define these here and now… they can be redefined for every generation) will be removed from the land and all those false gods will be thoroughly destroyed.

לתקן עולם במלכות שדי

A time when (yes that's one of the very first times the now-famous phrase appears in a text) Tikkun Olam will occur… but not simply occur, but under the reign of the All Powerful.

וכל-בני בשר וקראו בשמך

And all the living will call upon Your name (that's יהוה for those who weren't paying attention… do we need a lesson on what that “name” implies?)

להפנות אליך כל-רשעי ארץ

A time when all those who do evil will be turned toward You (note, not destroyed… these are people, not the “false gods” and “abominations”).

יכירו וידעו כל-יושבי תבל כי לך תכרע כל-ברך תשבע כל-לשון

Then all of humanity will know and acknowledge You (that is, as they look at the evening sky and its colors, they'll appreciate the molecules and particles, and they'll appreciate the “Something Beyond the Sum” as well as all the pieces.

לפניך יי אלוהינו יכרעו ויפולו

To You יהוה our God will they show homage.

ולכבוד שמך יקר יתנו

And they will all honor Your name.

ויקבלו כולם את-עול מלכותך

They will all accept the reigns of Your rule.

ותמלוך עליהם מהרה לועם ועד

And you will reign over them soon and throughout all time and space.

כי המלכות שלך היא ולעולמי עד תמלוך בכבוד

Because you truly control (even the apparent randomness of) everything throughout all time and space and you will reign in glory.

ככתוב בתורתו

Once again, as it is written in Your Torah…

יי ימלוך לעולם ועד

 .will reign throughout all time and space יהוה 

[Exodus 15:18]

And as it's said…

והיה יהוה למלך על-כל-הארץ ביום ההוא יהיה יהוה אחד ושמו אחד

And יהוה will rule over all the earth, and in that day יהוה will (truly) be (recognized as) one and will be called One.

That's amazing!

Yes, indeed we want that “Something Beyond the Sum” to be in charge of everything… which by definition is already the case. But, more than that, we simply “hope” that everyone else in the world will recognize this. And, the method outlined, beyond our “hoping” for this to come about is… (drum roll please), is that we Jews are to be aware and behave as though this “Something Beyond the Sum” is actually already in charge.

What can each of us do in the coming year to make that reality felt among others?

1 The Botany of Desire; Michael Pollan; ©2001; Random House; NY. p.139

©Mark Hurvitz