The People of the Book

By Rabbi Mendel Matusof

This Shavuot gets a quadruple three: 3,333 years of Torah. That's 3,333 years since we stood together as a single nation at Mount Sinai, trembling in awe as we accepted the entire Torah for all generations. 

There has been so much ink spilled discussing Jewish peoplehood. Is Jewishness a tribal identity, an ethnic identity, or a religion?

The mystery has deep roots. To unravel it, we need to trace it back to the origins of the Jewish people. Most nations are groups of people united by a common land, similar language, and a ruling power. The Jewish people are unique in that they are a people who were formed by a covenant with G-d at Mount Sinai even before they had a land.

They call us the "People of the Book" because it's what made us a people. For thousands of years, the study of Torah has been our life's occupation and our highest mark of achievement. The Torah is our mandate as a people, the marriage contract of our special relationship with G‑d as His chosen "kingdom of priests and holy nation." But it is not only that: to the Jew, the Torah is nothing less than the basis and objective of all existence.

We live in a time with so much freedom and opportunity, leading many young Jews to question the value of their Jewish identity.

The only solution is if we as a community focus on Jewish literacy. On the study which has made us a people. Jewish values come from Torah. Jewish culture comes from Torah. Jewish history was created through Torah. And the Jewish future will be shaped through Torah.

In today’s day and age of endless access to information, let’s invest in our Jewishness. Let’s find a few minutes to study Torah every day. Torah shares the same etymology as the Hebrew word orah, "light"—its teachings shine a light on life.

In addition to wishes of a Chag Sameach, I also join Jews worldwide in prayers for the safety and security of those living in the Holy Land.

Rabbi Mendel Matusof was born and raised in Madison, received his training in France, Canada, Israel, and New York. In 2005 he and his wife Henya moved back to Madison to direct the Chabad activities on the UW campus. Under his leadership a new Chabad house on campus was established, Chabad at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, serving the thousands of students.

Disclaimer: The From Our Rabbis feature seeks to provide a platform representing the diversity of our community clergy. The views, information, or opinions expressed in the From Our Rabbis articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Jewish Federation of Madison.