I love being Jewish. I always have. It has always been an important part of who I am and continues to shape the person I am today.
Growing up, I was one of those “weird kids” who enjoyed going to Sunday School and Hebrew School. I loved the opportunity to gain a deeper meaning and understanding of our religion, learning about the customs and traditions and also how our teachings were still applicable to us today, even though they were centuries old.
It was why I decided to be a Religious Studies major and a Jewish Studies minor at Cal State Northridge. During my studies, I was turned onto an incredible book called Jacob the Baker. This simple book that Kirkus Reviews describes as “a Jewish version of Chinese fortune cookies,” is a collection of parables and teachings that for me illustrated how living Jewishly can have a profound impact. And how Jewish teachings can guide and educate us in ways we might not truly understand.
In many ways, this little book reminds me a lot of the teachings included in Pirkei Avot. As a refresher, Pirkei Avot is a collection of teachings from our great Talmudic sages that did not quite fit into specific sections of the Talmud. But… were so important and influential that the rabbis who codified and organized the Talmud put them together and called the selection Pirkei Avot (Sayings or Teachings of our Fathers).
One of the many poignant teachings of this collection is attributed to Rabbi Tarfon. He said, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.” (2:16) I have been thinking about this verse a lot as reports are beginning to come out that there appear to be more COVID vaccines available than there are those who are interested in getting it.
I believe Rabbi Tarfon is reminding us that we have a responsibility to encourage everyone we know to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated. While, individually, we cannot possibly make people do it, we need to do everything in our power to try. Whether we need to say we will take them, hold their hand, take them for ice cream when they are done, or even explain why we got our shot or something else… it is our responsibility to do what we can. This also includes encouraging parents of children 12 years and older to get them vaccinated as well… even if they don’t want to. This was how we were able to eradicate or prevent outbreaks of Polio, Tetanus, Rubella, Measles, and others.
Rabbi Tarfon’s teaching also holds true for continuing our efforts to follow CDC guidelines and encouraging others to do so as well. This is how we are going to continue to get through this. It’s just going to take more time.
This is just another example of how our tradition’s teachings continue to guide and help us face today’s challenges. Thank you to all Sunday School and Religious School teachers out there, both past and present, who continue to illustrate this to their students.