The act of remembering … is the heartbeat of Jewish spirituality.
The quintessential element of Jewish spirituality occurs again and again, in The Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general., in Aggadah and in Jewish practice. It’s profoundly simple. But make no mistake. Simple is not the same as easy.
The The rabbinic compendium of lore and legend composed between 200 and 500 CE. Study of the Talmud is the focus of rabbinic scholarship. The Talmud has two versions, the main Babylonian version (Bavli) and the smaller Jerusalem version (Yerushalmi). It is written in Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic. (Niddah 30b) says that in the womb, a light shining above the baby’s head allows it to see the world from end to end. An angel teaches the unborn child all of Torah. At the moment of birth, the angel strikes the infant on the upper lip and the baby forgets everything. What’s left is an instinct, a residual memory and love of Torah.
Another rabbinic legend says that all Jews were present for revelation at According to the Torah, God, in the presence of the Jewish people, gave Moses the Torah on Mount Sinai (Har Sinai)., including those not yet born and who were not yet Jews (Shavuot is the holiday fifty days after Passover and commemorates when the Israelite liberation from Egypt culminates with the giving of the Torah. Traditionally, Jews study in an all-night study session, eat dairy products (one interpretation is that the Torah is like milk to us), and read both the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth. 39a). In the collection known as A rabbinic method of interpreting text, often through the telling of stories. Tanhuma, Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani adds: “Their souls were there, even though their bodies had not yet been created.”
The act of remembering – remembering what we were given in the womb and what we were given at Sinai – is the heartbeat of Jewish spirituality. In prayer, we recite and reenact our communal memories, the archetypal core of the Jewish people.
The liturgy of our Lit. Order of prayers. The prayer book. is a blend of recited collective memories and fanciful reenactments. Every time we take the Torah from the ark, we reenact revelation at Sinai, the power of the moment and the commitment of our people. We live that commitment by reading, studying and fulfilling Torah.
Earlier in the service, we pretend to be angels when we recite the Kedusah, reenacting an imaginary debate between the angels, reminding ourselves of the paradox that God is both as far away as the high heavens and as near to us as our own breathing.
Our festivals are reenactments. We reenact the journey from freedom to revelation on Passover is a major Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jewish people's liberation from slavery and Exodus from Egypt. Its Hebrew name is Pesakh. Its name derives from the tenth plague, in which God "passed over" the homes of the Jewish firstborn, slaying only the Egyptian firstborn. Passover is celebrated for a week, and many diaspora Jews celebrate for eight days. The holiday begins at home at a seder meal and ritual the first (and sometimes second) night. Jews tell the story of the Exodus using a text called the haggadah, and eat specific food (matzah, maror, haroset, etc). and again when counting the From the second day of Passover until Shavuot, Jews count seven weeks – seven times seven days – to commemorate the period between the Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation at Sinai. When the Temple stood, a certain measure (omer) of barley was offered on the altar each day; today, we merely count out the days.. We reenact the journey in the wilderness on Lit. Booths or huts Sukkot is the autumn harvest Festival of Booths, is celebrated starting the 15th of the Jewish month of Tishrei. Jews build booths (sukkot), symbolic of the temporary shelters used by the ancient Israelites when they wandered in the desert. Traditionally, Jews eat and sleep in the sukkah for the duration of the holiday (seven days in Israel and eight outside of Israel). The lulav (palm frond), willow, myrtle, and etrog fruit are also waved together. and revelation at Sinai on Shavuot. And the Torah instructs us not only to keep Shabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. but to remember the Shabbat (shamor v’zakhor).
Judaism is deeply invested in creating and maintaining collective memory. Remembering our past, our history and our roots. Remembering our commitments to God. Remembering our commitment to each other.
Six times in Torah we’re commanded to remember specific events: the exodus from Egypt, receiving Torah at Sinai, Amalek’s attack on the Israelites, our making the golden calf, Miriam’s punishment and Shabbat. An odd mix. Yet, with six memories, we can understand the formative history of our people.
Memory is the gateway into Jewish spirituality. It is the daily practice of remembering what we already know deep inside. It’s about waking up again and again to one simple truth: God is present in this moment.
When Lit. heel Jacob is the third patriarch, son of Isaac and Rebecca, and father to the twelve tribes of Israel. More than any of the other patriarchs, Jacob wrestles with God and evolves from a deceitful, deal-making young man to a mature, faithful partner to God. His Hebrew name is Yaakov. awoke from his dream of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, he said: “Surely God was in this place and I didn’t know it” (Gen. 28:16). But upon waking he remembered. All we need to do is remember.
It’s so easy to forget that God is right here, right now. Even Jacob forgets that God is present.
Rabbi Nachum Twerski of Chernobyl, the 18th-century hasidic master known as the Me’or Eynayim, compared the Mishkan — the tabernacle — to a person’s soul, a “dwelling place” for God. Our souls are meant to house holiness. From seeing that imaginary light in the womb to experiencing the mythological collective memory of Sinai, our souls are primed for visions of God.
A spiritual tabernacle exists in us all. When we fill that tabernacle with memories of God, spirituality becomes resident in our bones. Then we pick up Torah and Lit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed." with resounding love. We become vessels of holiness. All we have to do is remember.
Alden Solovy is an acclaimed liturgist of over 700 original works of Jewish liturgy. He will be teaching an online course, through the Reconstructionist Learning Networks in collaboration with Ritualwell, entitled “Ingredients of Prayer: Writing Contemporary Liturgy,” beginning October 16th. Learn more and register.