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Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

Erev Shabbat 26 Cheshvan 5770
13th November 2009

Dear Community,
 
Mitzvah Day, which takes place this Sunday across Britain and much of the Jewish (and Interfaith) world, is a wonderful thing. It’s great to have Tony Blair standing shoulder to shoulder with us and writing in the Jewish Chronicle that Mitzvah Day embodies his vision and enacts precisely those values his Faith Foundation represents.
 
There’s a tremendous creative imagination behind Mitzvah Day. Its activities, planned to involve something like fifteen thousand people, including lots of children, extend from cleaning cemeteries to bringing food and welcome to refugees, helping in homes for the elderly and working on city farms. Muslim and Christian leaders have come forward as advocates for the day, which falls this year at the start of National InterFaith Week. We’re witnesses to the coming of age in this country of a stronger, bolder, more vibrant, more vocal, more proactive, more socially committed, more universal vision of Judaism, a Judaism which has the courage and confidence in its own values to go out across society and put them into practice. We all owe a great debt to the many people who are making Mitzvah Day such a brilliant success. (You can see below some of the ways in which our community will be involved, and it’s not too late to volunteer).
 
Mitzvah Day is rooted in the concept of Mitzvah, literally the ‘commanded act’, the deed we understand God to want us to do. Mitzvot span the range and depth of our ethical and spiritual life, from the love of the stranger to the love of God. Indeed, they help us to integrate the ethical and spiritual dimensions of our lives: we practise the love of God in the way we care for one another because we all carry within us a unique portion of God’s scared image, and we find our sense of God in our engagement with other people and with the world, its beauty, its tenderness and its vulnerability. Mitzvot are thus both the building blocks of Judaism and the way to its heart.
 
I have not so much a minor reservation about Mitzvah Day, as a hope as to where it will lead. When I went on my hundred mile walk twenty months ago I met person after person, whether they worked in hospitals, in inter-faith dialogue, or in some windy field planting trees or protecting birds, whose life had found its meaning through their devotion to ideals concerning which they felt themselves to be commanded because those deeds mattered, because such actions were right, because they felt God wanted them to do them, because they loved them.
 
I hope our involvement in Mitzvah Day leads us to such life long love, that it brings us nearer to the Jewish vision of a life in which our ethical commitments are nourished by our spirituality, and in which our actions in this world bring us nearer, through the love of people, (and the quadrupeds on city farms) to the love of God.
 
Shabbat Shalom
 
Jonathan Wittenberg
wittenberg@masorti.org.uk
 
To read Rabbi Wittenberg’s article on Mitzvah Day published in The Guardian click here