Monday, May 26, 2008

Magic and Mitzvoth

Sometimes, I wonder if Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi might be jealous.

He was the chief editor of the Mishna, after all, the first great code of Jewish law, a code studied to this day by school children and scholars alike, while also serving as a key leader of the Jewish community during Roman times. Yet the glory -if glory is measured in songs and stories- goes to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the man who may have written the Zohar, and is remembered, to this day, on his feast day, with bonfires and other tributes, including a pair of very long prayer poems which suggest, among other praises, that Bar Yochai was holy from the moment of his conception.

I want to win some of that glory for Yehuda HaNasi. I want celebrations in his honor, celebrations of scholarship, and for the talent for organization that made the Mishna possible. Too much is made of mysticism. Too many Jews seek redemption by dunking in Mikvahs and running to graves and miracle workers, by mumbling Pslams, or performing segulahs. A feast day for Yehuda Hanasi, one with all the accoutrements (save, of course, the hagiographies, and the extolments borrowed from Christianity that make up the Lag Bomer liturgy) might trim the boat, and redirect some of Jewish energy and attention toward the neglected idea that a Jew is redeemed through mitvoth -not through magic, mysticism, or miracles.

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