In Part IV of his book, Rabbi Stone makes an argument that Judaism is an all-encompassing way of life that helps us live better, more meaningful lives. To simply focus on self-examination and self-improvement without the grounding practices and ways of Judaism is insufficient.
He argues (page 100-101) that taking up Jewish practices, Jewish learning and Jewish prayer is “not a rejection of universalism, but…our way toward it.” In other words, we might ask “why do we have to live as Jews? Can’t we just be better people in general and be like everyone else?” The answer is that yes, we could, but Judaism offers a full and rich approach to living and it is our inheritance.
Then he begins to explore three foundational aspects of Jewish life: Torah study, prayer (worship) and acts of goodness. He quotes Shimon the Righteous in Pirke Avot (part of the Mishnah):
Shimon the Righteous… used to say: The world stands on three thing: on Torah, on Worship and on Acts of Saintly Compassion.
Why is Torah foundational? When we learn – he uses the term “acquire” – Torah
We acquire a thirst for a call or [moral] claim upon us. We acquire a desire to be called upon by another and another and another…an infinite desire.That is, Torah (he means Torah in the broadest sense: not merely the “five books of Moses” but the accumulated teachings of Judaism over the centuries) will focus our attention on learning how to become more responsive to other people. We can expand the possibilities of this learning in our generation, so we “discover additional possibilities for accepting even greater responsibility for others than were discovered by the maters of our tradition in the past.” (103)
Why is Worship/Prayer (Hebrew: Avodah) foundational? Prayer helps us identify our individual and communal pain, our needs: Prayer “is an expression of our human cry. Individuals in prayer give voice to the ir own needs and the community praying together gives voice to the cumulative needs that afflict the…the entire human community.” (106).
And we help each other through prayer: “By participating in the community’s life of prayer, we effectively make our burden available for others to bear.” (107) In participating in this ritual of sharing our deepest needs together, we give support to and get support from the community.
Why are Acts of Saintly Piety (Hebrew: Gemilut Chasidim) foundational? Torah and Worship are “incomplete unless accompanied by action.” (107) If we consider study and prayer to be the ultimate expression of our Judaism we are failing because we don’t bring our acts into the world to change the world.
But “Gemilut Chasidim is not merely about doing good deeds, though they are surely required. Rather, it is about orienting oneself intellectually, spiritually and practically…to meet the world with love.’ (108-09)