So the story goes of a Jewish woman riding a bus in the Midwest, when a man gets on the bus and sits down next to her. He's wearing a black hat, long black coat, black slacks and shoes, and he has a long curly dark beard.

The woman looks at him disgustedly. "Jews like you," she hisses at him.
He looks up at her, puzzled, and says, "I beg your pardon, madam?" She says, "Look at you. All in black, a beard, never take off your hat! It's Jews like you that give the rest of us a bad name."

He says calmly, "I beg your pardon, madam, but I am not Jewish.
I'm Amish." The woman looks back and smiles, "How nice. You've kept your customs."

We Jews have what one might even call an obsession with fitting in and keeping up with the times. Since time immemorial, disputes have racked Jewish communities the world over caused by friction between the "modernizers" and "traditionalists".

This week's Torah portion is the second portion of the fifth book of the Torah: Devarim or Deuteronomy. This book is nicknamed "The Second Torah" since it is all but a rehash of the first four. It recounts nearly all the stories, laws and commandments found in its predecessors. Only this time, unlike the first four books which are written in the third person (e.g. "And God spoke to Moses") the fifth book is being repeated in the first person by Moses ( "God told me to tell you" ), shortly before his passing.

For the Torah - so exact in its words; entire sections of Jewish law are derived from one single extra word - to spend an entire book on a recap of the first four, albeit this time being repeated by a human being, is strikingly odd.

Let's take a little detour and put this query into a practical form: Life contains many repetitions. We have a birthday, then another and yet another. We go through one day after another, months, years and decades. We might take the same route to work for years on end. Many things we were once so excited over and full of enthusiasm for, barely register on our radars. That ecstatic feeling you might have had the first time you entered your new home is long forgotten. The list can go on with so many things, from vacations to relationships to Jewish rituals and holidays that we've long forgotten the meaning of.

Yet sometimes, out of the blue - I'm sure you know the feeling - we'll suddenly rediscover a passion we have. The past and future take a little step back, and we focus on now. We might take out that old saxophone from high school and happily play ourselves blue, just like we used to, now. Or take out an old family album and reminisce for hours, or sit down for a family dinner and rediscover each other, now. Little things like that can put such smiles on our faces and keep us going for weeks. What happened?

Living in the present. The present moment, though preceded by so much, is brand new. Focus. We can look around us and see all the good things we have, now. We can stop, look up to the sky and remember that there's a God who made this world and who's only desire right now is to make us happy. We can zoom in on where we are and how we can maximize the second we're in, for it's never come before and will never come again. "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened" said Dr. Seuss.

The Torah tells us that Judaism is meant to be practiced with such enthusiasm as if it was given to us this morning. How is that possible? We got the Torah 3,327 years ago!

The fifth book of the Torah is a repetition, yes, but a repetition repeated by Moses. The first four books were God given - straight from heaven. As much as we study and understand them, there's something special about hearing those same words, in a contemporary fashion. The fifth book is also just as holy and God-given, but the very fact that the Jews were hearing those same commandments repeated by a human being who looked, spoke, ate and drank just like them, gave the Torah a new meaning. It brought it into the present. It made it contemporary and palpable for them. It got them excited about it. It made them have a personal connection to it.

That feeling of excitement and personal connection has high priority in Judaism - very high priority. So much so that an entire book of the Torah is dedicated to just that. That entire fifth book is there to ensure that those same commandments mean something to us, and are enjoyable for us. It's not only the "what" but the "how".

So is The Torah about modernizing or keeping traditions alive? Its about keeping those same, unchanged traditions alive, in a modern relevant way.

Rabbi Avrohom