It is a challenge to be committed to an ancient tradition and to live in the modern world. So, while I believe one can easily defend the inner meaning of a life commitment to Judaism in light of secular values, it is a greater challenge to do so without becoming defensive. I enjoy the academy and the questions that it provides. Open-minded inquiry seems to for allow free discourse between rivaling truth claims. One would hope that this would engender a certain modicum of curiosity; but I find our conversations often slip into cynicism.
While one can feel like they are in a tremendous groove in the free market of ideas, cynicism is a rut. And once in it, it wears on you until it is a chasm. The tone has been set, so that even a well intending comment is perceived as ridicule. A humorous comment meant to lighten the mood just digs us in a little deeper.
At the end of this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, Lavan, the villainous father-in-law of Jacob, blesses his children and grandchildren. We read, “And Lavan awoke early in the morning, he kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them, then Lavan went and returned to his place” (Genesis 32:1). Even a sinner like Lavan might have a moment of meaning. He returns to his perch of contempt, but the Torah takes a moment to express his compassion. He was not beyond love or appreciation for the family that Jacob was making.
I realize that I need to work on maintaining open inquiry without being cynical of others’ views. I learn from this week’s portion that it starts with being open and present with my emotion. Showing that I care is not a sign of weakness. Surely, there is no sin in sincerity.