The Heritage of the Congregation of Jacob
Over the next two weeks Posnack Jewish Day School will celebrate the culmination of another successful academic year. Festivities will begin with our Fischer High School Commencement ceremony this coming Sunday evening. The following night will see our 8th Graders participate in a Moving Up exercise marking their transition into the last four years of their Upper School advanced academic studies. Last, but not least, 5th Graders at our two Posnack campuses, one in Davie, the other in Hallandale, will officially bring to a close their primary school education. Each program not only highlights our students’ high academic achievement but their “midot” (fine character traits), and their commitment to community near and far.
Our mission at Posnack is, perhaps, encapsulated by the well-known verse in the Torah, “תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה קהלת יעקב” “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob.” (Devarim 33:4) Our great sages in the Talmud state, “If someone says, ‘there is wisdom in the nations of the world,’ we believe him. But if someone says, ‘there is Torah in the nations of the world,’ we do not believe him.” What is the difference?
The attainment of knowledge and the advancement of wisdom is within the capability of every human being. Throughout the world people are grateful to thinkers past and present. Their intellectual breakthroughs not only provide a window to the wisdom underlying God’s universe, but often they provide very practical benefits, easing the burden of our daily lives. These men and women bring all of us to participate in fulfilling the verses, “How abundant are Your works, Hashem, with wisdom You made them all, the earth is full of Your possessions,” ( Psalm 104) and “ fill the earth and subdue it.” (Bereishit 1:28)
Our understanding and appreciation of the workings of the universe are enhanced with each new intellectual breakthrough. The most common of these, the ones we are most familiar with, are those in the fields of science and technology. But life changing insights occur in all domains of human investigation. In fact, the rabbis recognize this truth and created a ברכה, a blessing upon seeing an outstanding secular scholar, regardless of his religious or non-religious affiliation. “Blessed are You … Who has given His knowledge to flesh and blood (human beings).” Should you find yourself in the presence of a Nobel Prize winner, for example, excluding the non-academic Peace Prize, recital of this blessing would not only be appropriate but obligatory as well.
That being said, this is not what is meant by מורשה, the “heritage” or “legacy” of the Congregation of Jacob. Certainly, at its core is knowledge. Each morning we recite a Mishnah at the outset of our prayers, “… and the study of Torah outweighs them all.” But Torah here does not just mean Chumash and Jewish law. It is Torah with a big “T” meaning it embraces all areas of knowledge for as we said above, that leads to a recognition and appreciation of the Creator. But that is not all the legacy or מורשה is.
Rather, this מורשה, heritage, includes an entire approach to life for mankind. It is an all-encompassing system not just for those with superior intellectual ability. It is a complete system for life that, if you embrace, works to properly direct and channel every human desire as well. The opening verse of this week’s Torah portion, בהר, alludes to this idea. “God spoke to Moshe at Mt. Sinai saying.” (Vayikra 25:1) Rashi asks, “Why does the Torah connect Mt Sinai with the laws of the Sabbatical year?” He answers, “Mt Sinai is mentioned here to teach us just like the general laws and specific details of the Sabbatical year were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, so too every command and its details were given to Moses at Mt Sinai.” In other words, our heritage was given whole and complete. Thus, our heritage makes possible for every person, from the “get go,” to have the opportunity to get the most out of our temporary physical existence while at the same time developing the inner person, the soul, for eternal existence.
God, the same Creator of that fantastic wisdom behind the universe, wants us to have and enjoy the full range of human existence. So, the legal, ethical, and philosophic aspects of His Torah are designed perfectly for mankind to bring that result about. Of course, without study, insight and practice a person will never realize these benefits. So, in מורשה קהלת יעקב, we would never find, for example, a great scholar who lived a foolish lifestyle. The mathematician and philosopher, Descartes, comes to mind. An intellectual elite not also deeply concerned with the plight of their fellow man, both in word and action, such as those who supported the Nazi regime in the 1930’s and 40’s, is alien to the concept of “ the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob.”
So yes, profound wisdom is found in the nations of the world; and whatever is proven to be true, we accept as human beings and as adherents to Judaism. But one harmonious system, designed for the perfection of man, to refine his unruly physical and psychological desires as well as to develop his thinking and intellectual pursuits, a holistic system specifically designed for the benefit of the total human being, this is the unique מורשה, “heritage of the Congregation of Jacob.” Anyone can come and join the Congregation of Jacob but this heritage, מורשה, remains forever in their sole possession.
This is the message we try to impart to our students in some way at their level. They are the heirs to this God given heritage. As they move through their stages in life, we have every confidence in their ability to learn, live, maintain, defend and when their time comes, to pass it on whole and complete to the next generation of the Congregation of Jacob.
My heartfelt congratulations to all of our graduates, to our 8th and 5th Grade students, and to their families for the milestones they have reached in their lives; and “Kol HaKavod” to the Posnack Administration, Faculty, Staff, and dedicated PTO Volunteers for all they do day in and day out for the students of Posnack Jewish Day School.
Rabbi Robert Kaplan