March 2, 2024
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Modern Orthodoxy—Modern or Orthodox?

Modern Orthodoxy. Either you are modern or you are Orthodox, my friend Josh Notkin taught me. If you are Orthodox, then that must be the essence of who you are, it’s your philosophy of life. Being modern is simply a flavor and secondary and can influence our way of being Orthodox, but modern secular values must never be allowed to supersede our religious foundation. Being Orthodox must be the center of our lives and how we define ourselves. We are Orthodox Jews who happen to be lawyers, mothers, teachers, husbands and engineers. We are not simply physicians, accountants, women or nurses who happen to keep kosher and rest on Shabbos. We are a holy people living holy lives.

Rav Soloveitchik explains why the Rambam uses two separate terms: to believe in God and to know there is a God. He taught that to believe in God is necessary, but it is not enough; one must also feel and sense the existence of God. God should become a living reality that one cannot forget even for a minute. This keen awareness of the existence of God should constitute the foundation of our thoughts, ideas and emotions, in every kind of situation and under all conditions. One must be conscious of God’s existence at all times. The presence of the Almighty must be a personal and intimate experience. And if this experience is not common, and if it proves not possible to achieve this closeness, this communion, with the Holy One, Blessed be He, and if one feels not the touch of His hand, one cannot be a complete Jew.

“What did you discover at the school of the great Maggid of Mezritch?” Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was asked. “I discovered that God exists, that He is in this world, and that His holiness fills the universe.”

“But, Rebbe, everyone knows that!”

“No,” he answered. “They say it everywhere, but in Mezritch they know it!”

By Martin Polack

Martin Polack is a business analyst living in Teaneck.

 

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