One serves God and enters into an intimate relationship with Him by self-realization on the part of the moral will, by living a moral life, by walking humbly with people, by engaging in deeds of charity, by being just and merciful, generous and kind, by cultivating the truth, by helping others, by disciplining oneself, by taming one’s animal desires and impulses and by introducing axiological worth into the realm of a bodily existence.As God created the physical body He is not antagonistic to it. He challenges us only to refine and elevate our physical selves. Like Olympic athletes, we bring out the best in ourselves through self-discipline and directed effort. Rabbi Soloveitchik described this as follows:
Halakhah (ie Jewish law and the mitzvot) aims to sanctify man’s body, refine the bestial aspects of human life with all their lusts and drives, and raise them to the level of divine service. But this refining process does not take place in a crucible of denial and deprivation; [it occurs by] stamping the natural aspects of human existence with direction and purposefulness….The purpose of the halakhic imperative is not to label man’s sensual body as impure and thus reject it, but to purify it and draw it closer to God.Accordingly, it should not be surprising that Torah observant Jews raise families, celebrate holidays with sumptuous food, and contribute to society via the same professions and businesses as other people in the societies in which we live.
TOJ is one of the world’s oldest religions and the bedrock from which Christianity and Islam sprang. With Christianity at 2 billion followers and Islam at 1.5 billion, the influence of Judaism is immense. The influence of Jews on secular society is immense as well as the list of famous Jews who have made contributions to the world is a long one. Names include Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk (inventor of the polio vaccine), Sigmund Freud, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Louis Brandeis (as well as several other US Supreme Court justices), and Nobel Prize winners such as Neils Bohr, Milton Friedman, Paul Krugman, and Harold Pinter. Over 20% of Nobel Prize winners have at least one Jewish parent. This is remarkable given that Jews comprise just .2% of the world’s population. What could explain this influence? American author Mark Twain asked the same question:
..If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky way. properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.
The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” (“Concerning The Jews,” Harper’s Magazine, 1899)I invite you to explore this question by studying the religion itself. While most Jews today are not Torah observant, this was not the case for the ancestors of people who identify themselves as Jewish. The turbulence of the last 200 years shook many Jews from the religious life that was core to our existence for thousands of years. If you are Jewish, then the chances are excellent that your grandparents, great-grandparents, or great-great parents as well as all their (and your) ancestors were Torah observant. By getting acquainted with Torah observance you will be getting acquainted with your own history.
Different styles of contemporary Torah observance include Modern, Chassidic, Yeshivish, Litvish, and Open Orthodoxy. Certainly, you have seen photographs of Chassidic Jews who wear long beards and long black coats. Did you know that Jack Lew, the 25th White House Chief of Staff, is an Orthodox Jew as is former US Senator and Democrat party Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman? They would describe themselves as being Modern Orthodox. All are Torah observant and are part of a profound way of life with a long and illustrious history.