Spencer’s submission consists of three parts:
1) The essay below.
2) His reading of the same essay: What is Judaism_SpencerGerrol_audio
3) This short you tube clip:
What is Judaism?
by Spencer Gerrol
Judaism is many things. One could fill a library writing about “Jewish Identity” and when there is no room left on the bookshelves, the uniqueness of each Jew as an individual would still not be captured. As you keep digging you might discuss “Jewish Culture” and create an immense anthology including the music, foods, philosophies, customs, traditions, and values that span from pure enjoyment to deep wisdom. Move on to “Jewish Religion” and indeed you could study for many lifetimes, never fully reaching the profound depths of what Judaism has to offer. Examine “Jewish Heritage” and fill the stacks of yet another library with a history so rich that anthropologists, archaeologists, linguists, and sociologists combined would never quite capture the feelings behind the facts. Yet at the end of this undertaking you may find that we are asking the wrong question in the first place. It is not ‘What is Judaism?’, but rather ‘Why be Jewish?’.
What purpose can we fulfill in this world?
Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is our duty. Such a statement has become almost a cliché, a catchphrase used to drive particular agendas. Nonetheless, it has motivated people to fight poverty, work toward saving the environment, act against injustices, and give charity. By popularizing ‘tikkun olam’ in the vernacular of the Jewish people, we become more focused on doing good. But let’s dig deeper…
Why tikkun olam?
First, in Judaism we don’t believe that we should sit around and wait for miracles to happen or that God will just wave a magic wand and fix things. We believe in freewill and that we are partners in repairing or perfecting the world. In other words, don’t sit idle as an observer — stand up and do something!
Second, in Judaism we believe that each individual is blessed with abilities and that we are meant to make use of these gifts and to live up to our individual potential. Recognize your skills, see your capacity, use your power, and fulfill a calling.
Furthermore, Judaism teaches that as we use our gifts, we expand our skills and abilities. We are taught to keep learning and keep progressing. By doing so, we increase our capacity and, once again, we must live up to that now enhanced potential.
But why bother? Can one individual really make a difference? Even if I continue to better myself and live up to my full potential, my actions are just a small ripple in world full of big problems.
Rambam, the great Jewish scholar teaches that with every action, we should imagine the world as if balanced with good and evil; and therefore, if we do one good deed, we will tip the scale, changing the entire balance of the world toward good.
There is no action trapped in a vacuum. Everything in the world is interconnected. Every good, kind, and holy thing that you do will create a chain reaction and together we will perfect the world.
That is Judaism.