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At the request of his parents, I recently met with a young man who had stopped going to Shul on Shabbos morning. (People think when we get semicha, Rabbis get a magic wand that we can wave and make their spouse or children or neighbor or friend do exactly what they want.) I asked the young man, someone who keeps Shabbos and Kosher and is observant, why he stopped going to Shul on Shabbos morning. He told me, “I only get to sleep late one day a week and I don’t want to wake up early.” I told him we have a Teen Minyan that begins at 9:45, he could at least come at 10:30 and catch Mussaf and the Kiddush and still sleep in. He said, “10:30 am? That’s not sleeping late. I want to sleep until 1:00 or 2:00 pm.”

I pressed on. “I understand you want to really sleep in but isn’t coming to Shul on Shabbos important to you, doesn’t it matter?” He answered, “Rabbi, the bottom line is this – I don’t go to Shul on Shabbos morning because it doesn’t do anything for me.” I was somewhat stumped.


“It doesn’t do anything for me” and so I don’t do it.

For a long time, Jews didn’t have the option of saying “it doesn’t do anything for me.” Some did “it” – whatever “it” was at the time – because their father or mother said so and some did it anyway because their Father in Heaven said so. For a big part of our history, for most of my lifetime, “doing something for me” was not part of the consideration. Responsibilities were obligations, not options.

But we live in a different world, we live at a different time. We live with different expectations, different assumptions, and different entitlements. In today’s world of on-demand and instant gratification, of comfort and convenience, young people and adults alike bring a mentality to relationships with spouses, friends, and with Hashem of “what does this do for me” and the impact is showing.

Had our ancestors considered this question, we may not be here today. When they confronted pogroms, extermination attempts, expulsions and forced conversions they didn’t ask what does this Judaism do for me. When our grandparents came to America and often were forced to choose between keeping Shabbos and keeping a job, they didn’t consider what this observance does for them.

Make no mistake, this isn’t just a question of the non-religious or unaffiliated, nor is it the challenge of the “modern.” It is a question that affects every segment of the Jewish community, including those who outwardly keep Torah and mitzvos but inwardly are deeply disaffected and barely holding on.

So how would you answer? What would you say to someone who doesn’t want to do a mitzvah or keep a Halacha, doesn’t want to sacrifice or compromise for his or her Yiddishkeit, isn’t truly invested in the lifestyle they are living, because it doesn’t do anything for them?

Why be committed to a life and lifestyle that don’t do anything for me? Why does Judaism even matter, why continue to fight for it? Why does Israel matter, why not pack it in, set up shop in Uganda or accept the invitation of America and the West to assimilate, integrate and leave our separateness and apartness behind?

These questions have been brewing for some time and our failure to formulate a meaningful, compelling and persuasive response have been a growing challenge. But then October 7th happened and it woke something up inside us, it stimulated a feeling and connection. In some ways it provided an answer without words.

As Hamas attempted to eliminate Israel, as antisemitism rises and pledges to extinguish the fire of Torah, an identity that had been suppressed or struggling became firm and proud. For some it is simply a Jewish identity while for others it is the central role of Torah and proudly bringing a fervor and feeling to davening and learning that had become stale or sour.

This war has awakened something inside us, from the secular to the Satmar, from the elderly to the young, from the unaffiliated to the fanatic, something bigger than us is happening, something that we feel part of and connected to, something that matters and that means something and that is in fact doing something for us, or better yet, it doesn’t even need to.

This is an important moment for our generation, this is a window that won’t remain open forever or even for long. Some segments of the Jewish people are realizing they had confused other movements and ideologies with Judaism and while environmentalism, feminism, or social justice may matter to them, their Judaism must return to its roots, be true to itself, stand alone for what it is and not be defined by or associated with people and movements that betrayed Israel and the Jewish people in our moment of truth.

For others, it is the recognition that it isn’t enough to be Jew-ish, we must be strong Jews, proud, practicing and passionate. The rise of the y’dei Eisav, the threat of the hands of our enemies, has made us lean into the power of our Kol Ya’akov, the influence, impact and responsibility of using our voices for Torah, Tefillah and our traditions.

Some have put flags on their cars and others dog tags around their necks. But, please God, this war will be won and the hostages brought home, those flags and necklaces will come off… and then what? So many have started putting tefillin on their arms or tzitzis under their clothing, they have started lighting Shabbos candles or practicing something meaningful, but will it continue?

We have unaffiliated brothers and sisters all around us who feel betrayed by movements they stood with and who feel connected to a heritage and a homeland in a way they haven’t before. What are we doing about it? Are we reaching out and reaching in with the goal of all of us better reaching up? Are we making Torah more accessible and available to them than ever? Are our communities warm, welcoming, accessible and supportive of those who have more limited education and background?

If these feelings are to endure, if these changes in our identity, our mission and our lifestyles are to last, we must take advantage of this moment, capture the pervasive sentiment, not of what does this do for me, but what can I do for my people, my country, my Torah, and my Creator. We need to have these conversations, find the vocabulary and language for why being Jewish, keeping Torah, remaining in our land matter, why we must do even that which doesn’t do anything for us.

It is time for us to focus not only on how do we get out of this situation, but also on what can we get out of this situation. Hopefully, the answer is a renewed passion, commitment, connection, and unity that endures.

{Reposted from the Rabbi’s site}


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Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 950 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. BRS is the largest Orthodox Synagogue in the Southeast United States. Rabbi Goldberg’s warm and welcoming personality has helped attract people of diverse backgrounds and ages to feel part of the BRS community, reinforcing the BRS credo of “Valuing Diversity and Celebrating Unity.” For more information, please visit