Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Jewish Practices of Passing on Wisdom: Sabbath, Passover, Tisha B'Av, and Sukkot

I recently read a book by Yael Eckstein, the leader of the international fellowship of Christians and Jews called "Generation to Generation." And in so doing, learned a great deal of ancient Jewish practices of passing on the faith from one generation to another.  

The question of how to pass on the faith from one generation to the next has puzzled me recently.  Why? Because it was so common in past generations to pass on wisdom and truth from generation to generation through family time, the church, and youth groups.  But today in our modern world, where children and adults are so completely influenced and molded by news media, entertainment, and the internet, we see the ability to pass on the faith disrupted and even destroyed by media, public education, the college system, Hollywood, and the various forces that push against us to change our beliefs. 

Sometimes I wish there was one perfect guide to passing it on, especially to overcome media interference, but no such lexicon exists. But perhaps we can learn some things from the ancient and current practices that Jews use to pass on the faith to their children. The Jews survived and continued as a unique faith group during near two thousands years of exile in the nations.  So how did they do it? Generation to Generation gives us a look at that. 

1. Shabbat Shalom

But a voice gently whispers... "Slow down."

That must be the voice of God.  Slow down. An overload of information... when a few words focused on intently, can completely reshape reality.  A room full of boxes of textbooks, novels, DVDs, and pen drives, overwhelming.  A single phrase from the one book, For God so loved... Four words.  Repeat them in your mind, and they produce more power and change and wisdom within that a dozen textbooks.  

Simplicity steals something that philosophers and scientists spend volumes chasing. And it seems like an insult to them. God uses the foolish things of this world to make the knowledgeable look silly. 

 Have you rested recently? The candles of sabbath burn for the orthodox jew. They burn quietly I imagine, as a celebration of rest.  And each day approaching the sabbath is simply one day closer to the goal of rest.  

According to the Jews, sabbath is a taste of the world to come. Shabbat Shalom, as they say. And the sabbath prayer was prayed on Friday night once the sun was down, "Come, let us sing praise to the Lord!
    Let us shout praises to the Rock who saves us.
Come and worship him with songs of thanks.[a]
    Let us sing happy songs of praise to him."

2. Coach Ma: The Power of 'What?'

Passover, the time when God delivered Israel from slavery. And for the Jew, Passover is all about asking questions, interestingly enough.  Some of us when raising questions were scolded and told not to question. But it's interesting that God actually invites us to ask questions.  He did with Abraham, with Moses,with Job, and with Elijah just to name a few.  Abraham asked the question of God's justice. Moses asked the question of God's help. Job asked the question of God's sovereignty. And Elijah asked the question of God's redemption.

Passover for the Jews is about encouraging their children to ask questions.   

3. Tisha B'av - The power of hope.

It's quite difficult being raised up as a Christian in a secular world increasingly hostile to Christianity. Hopelessness is an increasing phenomenon particularly among the young.  Loss and sorrow can be absolutely debilitating.  

For the Jews, on Tisha B'av, the yearly holiday, the Jews mourn for the destruction of the temple, and all the sorrows of Jewish history. Eckstein wrote, "It may sound strange at first, but it is on Tisha B'Av, the darkest day on the Jewish calendar, that we truly experience hope. Just as it takes the darkest skies to see the brightest stars, it is on this black day that we can experience the greatest light." 

On the night of Tisha B'av Jews read the book of Lamentations, the first words of which mean: "How can it be?"

Eckstein writes, "When we teach our children that this isn't the way the world is supposed to be, we teach them that, indeed, there is always hope; this world will not be broken."

4. Sukkah - a hut of faith

For the Jews, there are two words that express different facits of faith. The first is emunah is believing that God exists and that God runs the world.  The second word bitachon is defined as acting in accordance with belief in God, practicing it.  

In Judaism, faith is all about doing, not so much believing. The holiday of Sukkot is about leaving the comfort of a home and living in a rickety hut for seven days.  Jews do this to celebrate God's protection and provision while they wandered in the wilderness after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  It's a reminder to their children, through physically living in a hut, of God's provision and deliverance.  

God provided bread from the sky and water from the rocks, supernaturally providing for the exiles during their trek through the wilderness. Sukkot reminds the Jews, from generation to generation that they can have rock solid faith in God, faith that they can live out, because God really does provide for their needs.