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They live their lives by a sacred code; it isn’t secret, but few people actually know its inner sanctum. Life entails a commitment to consciousness, discipline and faith, and because of the lure of everyday secular life, many fall away, believing they are not up to the task or are unwilling to comply with the demands. Those who remain are deeply committed to living virtuous lives, to raising loving and principled children, and to following the Law.
They are practicing or Orthodox Jews who embrace Torah, love G-d and revere acts of kindness. I have witnessed these three qualities among my practicing Jewish friends, and I venerate them for the life choices they have made.
If you have seen my posts on my Jewish observance, you know that my return to Judaism is still in its nascent stage. I won’t describe my own life, except to say that in terms of the people I am describing, I am quite a distance from achieving their dedication to a Jewish life. So let me tell you why I hold them in such high esteem.
Their Love of G-d is Palpable – they don’t necessarily talk about their love, but their words, actions and deeds reflect their desire to serve G-d, not just because G-d expects their service, but they feel called to serve Him. Every action, whether it is practicing a mitzvah (commandment), keeping kosher, wearing particular clothing, observing the Sabbath—all of these are not just demonstrations of obedience, but are acts of love. It is a love that not only fills each practicing Jew’s life, but affects everyone whose lives he or she touches. Especially beautiful is that (I believe) the more they seek a connection to G-d, the more love they experience with G-d. It is a wonder and blessing to witness.
Lifelong Commitment to Learning—for some practicing Jews, this commitment applies to diving deeply into Torah and its related books. But I admire a number of Jews who demonstrate their thirst for learning and understanding by also exploring many secular topics. (You may be aware that many of our members on Ricochet fit this description.) They want to know more. They are willing to do their homework. They ask serious questions. They contribute to the conversation. And boy, are they smart! And I know that with me in particular, they are patient about answering questions and receiving feedback. That exchange is what lifelong learning is truly about.
Engaging Children—Practicing Jews often have large families. G-d asks the Jews to have children; giving birth to beings that are reflections of G-d’s image is a miracle. Having many children also perpetuates the Jewish people and the teachings. These Jews believe it is a loving obligation to not only have children, but instill in them a love of G-d and Torah.
Following the Mitzvot—people who are not Jewish may feel that following the 613 mitzvot or Jewish laws must be difficult; it can certainly be demanding, depending on one’s circumstances. But a practicing Jew isn’t worried about future punishment, and thus follows the mitzvoth; instead, the conscious observance of mitzvoth is, again, an act of love. (Even as limited as my practice is, I am growing into this understanding.) I know that I am not alone when I express my dismay in “not doing enough”; I’ve been told that many practicing Jews feel much the same way. But G-d does not expect or even want us to be perfect; He simply wants us, at any given time, to be the best we can be, and then move on.
Generosity—I have experienced the generosity of every Jew with whom I’m acquainted, whether they are personal friends or friends on Ricochet. When I first came to Ricochet, the focus of practicing Jews, as I described my own journey, was encouragement, support, graciousness and kindness. Never once has a person told me that I should be doing anything other than what I am doing (although they may have wished to do so), or told me that I’m not doing enough. I’ve learned after posting something regarding Judaism that I’ve made mistakes in the information I share; Jews occasionally have, with kindness, corrected me; at other times, they probably just smile to themselves and see that my learning process is flawed but sincere.
Over time, I’ve learned who some of the Jews are on Ricochet. Since I don’t belong to a Jewish community, I’m deeply grateful for your presence. I also have many friends on Ricochet who are not Jewish, many who are Christian, who have also been supportive and caring, of me, the Jewish people, and Israel. I’m in your debt and so very appreciative. And those practicing Jews who live in Israel, I am so grateful that you are holding down the fort.
I know that the practicing Jews who have read this post, and those of you who know practicing Jews, know they have all the flaws that everyone has: limitations, anger, self-centered attitudes, impatience—all those things that remind us we are human and can try to do better. Still, I honor those of you who have chosen to live as practicing Jews; you are my inspiration, as we all choose to serve G-d.