A Mission Statement For The Jewish People
Parshat V’etchanan: Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11; Isaiah 40:1-26.
Why? Well, why not?”
As children, our earliest questions start with “Why”? Why do I have to go to bed? Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to eat my broccoli? It is through this exploration of whys that we are able to gain a better understanding of our world as well as test our own boundaries and limitations. “Why? Because I said so!”
At a recent JCC senior staff retreat, we watched and then discussed a well known Simon Sinek Ted Talk called “Start with Why” in order for us to develop an answer to the question of “Why is the JCC?” In his talk, Sinek describes his Golden Circle where “why” can be found at the center, “what” in the next outer ring and “how” in the far outer ring. He explains that all too often we start with the how and the what, when where we should really be starting out is with why. Instead of asking what do you do or how you do it, we should start and be more focused on why it is done at all. Sinek states, “It’s not about what you do; it’s about why you do it”. The why describes our purpose, our underlying mission.
This week’s portion reminds of us of our Jewish why. Within the parshat, we find both the repetition of the Ten Commandments, starting with the first commandment “I am the Lord your God” and the Shema “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Here we are able to discern the essential why of Judaism.
Why concern ourselves about the what’s and the how’s of the Ten Commandments? Because at our essence we believe in a world created and ruled by one united spirit. Before the Ten Commandments can describe how we should behave, what we should or should not do, they provide the answer to the essential question of why shall or shall not, at all.
There is a beautiful midrash that takes place when Jacob (aka Israel) was on his death bed, surrounded by his sons. Jacob feared that once he died, the belief in one God would die with him. As he is lying there, his sons turn to him and say Shema Yisrael — Listen up Israel — the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Jacob is so relieved and appreciative that his belief in one God had been passed onto his sons that he says, “Baruch shame kavod mlchuto l’olam va’ed,” “Praised be God’s kingdom forever and ever.” Relieved, Jacob then goes on to bless his sons. And according to midrash, this is why in our prayer service we say this phrase following the recitation of the first line of the Shema.
In many ways, the Shema serves as the mission statement of the Jewish people. It symbolizes the core of Judaism. It is a Jew’s declaration of faith. We recite the Shema twice a day, morning and evening, to remind ourselves, why.
If you were to create your own personal mission statement, what would it be? What values and phrases would you want to include in your family’s mission statement? If not the Shema, then what mission statement would you suggest for the Jewish people?
Jeffrey Lasday is a Jewish educator and the new chief operating officer of the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit.
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