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A Message of Identity

March 1, 2023

Rabbi Geier


BSD || Rabbi Geier

A Message of Identity

When we move away from the people we usually spend time with and move from a house where we were living for a while sharing our lives with neighbors, it is generally difficult for us to maintain a close bond with them while away.

Unless we seriously intend to be close or have a love that keeps us sentimentally close, we tend to gradually drift away. After a while, we will probably find ourselves very far away from them and talk only occasionally. After a few years, we will surely stop seeing one another and in some cases we may even forget their faces, their memories, and their existence. I believe many people within the Jewish People have done this same process with the Hebrew language and to a lesser extent with our traditions. At some point, I think the two things go hand in hand.

In the Babylonian Talmud, treated by Sota 32a and in El Shulchan Aruch, Orach Jaiim 62:2, we study that certain parts of the Tefila, of the prayer, must be read in Lashon Hakosdesh, the language of the sacred. This refers to the Hebrew language. By clarifying that certain sections of the tefila must be performed only in Hebrew, it follows that the rest can be said in the vernacular or any other language and so it is.

According to both compendia, the rest that is not specified can be prayed in another language that is well understood by the congregants. This was one of the great changes of the reformation in the 19th century, although the treatises were written in the 5th and 16th century respectively.

However, this is the same effect we spoke about at the beginning. Every time we move away from Hebrew, we forget about it. Since the source of the mitzvot, our traditions and prayers are in Hebrew, and we move away from it, it could be that it causes us to distance ourselves from the former.

It is true that currently the only country where we can practice our Hebrew is Israel. There is no other country where we can speak this language on the streets, unless we are in a Jewish neighborhood in a big city or in Brooklyn itself. Although maybe Yiddish is more useful for us there.

Knowledge of Hebrew not only brings us closer to tefila, to understanding it without intermediate translations and to our sources, but also to that mini-Jewish state that is sustained in the Middle East seeking the ideal of justice and coexistence transmitted by our Torah, and just in Hebrew.

Sounds difficult? It probably is.

Being Jewish was never an easy task. We have a heritage, a culture, a language and a country to which we belong, even though we are natives of any other country in the world. We are inevitably responsible for ensuring that the link that we have to close in the eternal chain of Judaism is solid and manages to sustain that link between history, the present and the future. Our traditions, the Torah, and our language are an inevitable part of the strength of that link. So that future generations have the same message that those who preceded us had. So that belonging to our People is strengthened and not diminished by interpretations of what we cannot understand unless it is translated for us. So that our children can participate in the understanding of the texts and in the dialogue with Eretz Yisrael and its inhabitants without any interpreter intervening, wherever they are in the dispersion.

We are in the month of Adar, of which it is said that whoever enters Adar increases his joy, referring to Purim. In a few days, we will be entering the month of Nisan, the one of the renewal of nature because of Spring and the celebration of our freedom during Passover. Both Purim and Pesach give us a message of strong identity with the People of Israel in their stories. Strengthening ties despite suffering and misfortunes. Let us pray with understanding; understand our sources; let's seek to rediscover our origins. It is exactly what kept us alive and united as a People, for over 3,000 years, despite our differences.

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