Now That’s What I Call…
(I wrote part of this piece a year ago – but I feel it is eternally relevant.)
I saw an advert this week for ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 103’. I remember the first one in 1983, it had some great tracks – Duran Duran, Phil Collins etc. I checked the 103rd iteration on Spotify, I had hardly heard of any of them, however, what was interesting is that they had put on some tracks from Now 3 – those ones I knew!
However, it got me thinking. The series is called ‘Now that’s what I call music’, personally, I don’t think I would call some of those songs ‘music’, but that is being subjective. I don’t like some of the modern genres of music – too much beat and not enough melody – but that is my personal taste. When it comes to music there is really no definition of what is and what is not – it covers a wide gamut of styles.
What about ‘Now that’s what I call Judaism’, is that subjective? Can we all pick and choose what is Judaism and what isn’t?
Vaetchannan makes it perfectly clear that the answer is a loud and clear no. It begins by telling us ‘V ata yisrael shema el ha hukim vel ha mishpatim asher anochi melamed etchem laasot’ – ‘Now Israel, listen to the decrees and the ordinances that I teach you to perform so that you may live’. It carries on ‘Lo Tosifu… v lo tigreu’, ‘Don’t add to the word that I command you and don’t subtract from it, to observe the commandments that I command you.’
That is Judaism no more and no less. As Shlomo Ha Melech famously said at the end of Kohelet ‘Sof Davar, Hakol nishma, at haelokim yra, vet mitzvotav shemor’, ‘The end of the matter, everything having been heard, fear God and keep His commandments.’
In fact, Vaetchanan is the perfect Sedra for Shabbat Nachamu. Tisha b Av reminds us of what happened, when we have forgotten, our national and personal mission. Shabbat Nachamu and Vaetchanan come and remind us of that mission.
It contains some of the most powerful ideas in Torah about Judaism and Torah. Of course, the highlights of the Parasha are the first paragraph of the Shema and the 10 commandments but beyond that, on the whole, it is a statement on what it means to be a Jew whenever and wherever we find ourselves.
There is not ‘My Judaism’. There is only Judaism as commanded by God and Torah and then passed down through the generations of our Mesorah to the Halacha we live our lives by today. We try to keep as much as we can, but whether we keep it all or barely any, the key is to realise that there is a right and a wrong, a target to aim for and an ideal to recognise.
We are seeing, sadly, what happens when you believe there can be other Judaism’s, when you blur the lines and allow alternative ideals into the mix – there is assimilation, there is detachment from Israel and there is a dilution of the very mesorah that has allowed us to be an eternal nation.
The Jewish world is on shaky ground at the moment. What is needed, more than ever is a clear statement of a vision, direction and connection to our lifeblood – Torah while recognising the reality of the State of Israel and the 21st century. The Torah does not have to be changed or diluted to deal with these new realities, on the contrary, we can use the powerful ideals of the Torah to inspire and uplift Medinat Yisrael and the world in which we live.
That is our awesome challenge on Shabbat Nachamu – if successful, it will bring true nechama to the Jewish people and the entire world.
P.S Enjoy Track 3 on Now That’s What I Call Music 1 tonight!