Orthodoxy is becoming an increasingly complex space because of the rapid social changes we are witnessing. Gone are the days when Jews were segregated from the wider community. Most Orthodox Jews have become part of societal fabric and have contributed enormously to that space. In a world of social inclusion and multiculturalism, Jews have by and large integrated fully into the world around us.
At the same time, we must always be cognisant of the need to retain our strong Jewish identity and to remain a distinctive people. Finding the correct balance between maintaining tradition and adapting to the modern world has become the challenge for Orthodoxy in the 21st century and there is no one monolithic approach to it.
A guiding principle, however, may be drawn from this week’s parasha, Nitzavim. Nitzavim means “standing”. It can allude to the requirement for Jews to remain standing and anchored in our traditions. We are obligated to hearken to our origin as a people when we stood at Sinai to receive the Torah. It was there that we formed our identity, and it is from the Torah that we learn how to successfully navigate our ongoing collective journey through time.
Society changes, governments win and lose elections, pop culture shifts at every juncture, fashions come and go, and technology progresses at a million miles per hour.
And so, the Torah teaches us “Nitzavim”, remain standing! We are instructed to remain firmly rooted in the traditions and rituals that we have practised and preserved for thousands of years.
Of course, in most years Parashat Nitzavim is read together with the next parasha, Vayelech. Vayelech means to go, to move, to progress.
As Jews we must on the one hand remain eternally attached to our spiritual epicentre which is the Torah, but we must also take those teachings and with them inspire the world around us. We must necessarily engage with our surroundings and move with the times.
In order to be effective communicators of the timeless values of Judaism we must be willing to adapt to our changing environment and seek appropriate means through which to illuminate it.
Technology is a symbol of modernity, yet it is also the means through which millions of Jews today can connect more easily with their Judaism. We must learn how to marry together these two parashas – Nitzavim and Vayelech – our traditions and the modern world.
In just a few days we will experience Rosh Hashanah and as part of this holy day we will dip apples in honey. Cut an apple and it goes brown within minutes, symbolising the ever-changing and ever-evolving world around us – what is fresh now will be brown and antiquated tomorrow.
In contrast, honey is a natural preservative which lasts years. On Rosh Hashanah we are reminded to dip the apple in the honey – to live in the modern world but ensure we stay rooted in the honey – our timeless Torah.
This is the calling of our generation and one we can all aspire to meet. Wishing everyone a Shana Tova umetukah!
Yaakov Glasman is senior rabbi of St Kilda Hebrew Congregation.