Acharei Mot/Kedoshim – Being Prepared
The great Rabbi Kook, first Chief Rabbi of the Jewish settlement in Israel, once declared that “The old will be renewed and the new will become old.” Like most of Rabbi Kook’s writings, this statement is poetic, perhaps more cryptic than usual. Rabbi Kook’s intent is understood to mean the following: That which is old, the traditions and values which are the bedrock of our heritage, will be infused with new life when applied to a modern setting, a setting different from that in which the tradition developed. Similarly, the new setting of modern society, different in so many ways from ancient civilization, will gain purpose and legitimacy when anchored to the values of yore, to the solid foundation of our timeless tradition.
Life in our modern society has placed new challenges before civilization, and to Jews in particular. In previous centuries faith in God was axiomatic; no one entertained a possibility of a world without a creator. To be sure, there were different faiths among humanity, but the concept of a religious belief was taken for granted.
All this changed during the enlightenment age, when individualism and secularism were introduced and promoted throughout European civilization, subsequently spreading beyond Europe and into the new world. This posed new challenges for the Jew, and many Jews embraced the new philosophies with both arms. At the same time, Jews who revered the tradition held tenaciously onto their own culture and traditions, grasping it more tightly in the face of turbulent opposition. Still others straddled the fence, valuing their traditions and holding them close while still engaging with the new and different society. These tensions remain among today’s Jews, and our choices of lifestyle continue to span the spectrum, from complete immersion in our traditions to complete rejection of it. Most Jews fall somewhere on the spectrum.