There are many things that threaten the survival of Judaism and the Jewish people. There are phenomena in every Jewish community that are grounds for concern and even alarm.
But at the same time there is a positive development that is one of the miracles of all time the ba’al t’shuvah movement that is bringing more and more Jews back to Judaism year by year, even week by week. From the furthest periphery they come.
We might have thought they were or soon would be completely lost to Judaism. Yet the opposite is happening.
How the process works is truly fascinating. You find it hinted at in the sidra’s listing of the laws of tefillin.
What on earth, you ask, have tefillin to do with the exciting drama of the story of the Exodus from Egypt? Is there really any logic in juxtaposing the two the story and the commandment?
The text itself offers an answer. It says, “This shall be a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead, that the teaching of the Lord may be in your mouth, for with a mighty hand the Lord delivered you from Egypt” (Ex. 13:9, 16).
How does a Jew express Jewish identity? Not only in vague nominal identification, but in acts of commitment.
When a Jew comes back to Judaism, the first sign is often the lighting of Shabbat candles, the wearing of a kippah, the adoption of kashrut. Sometimes it is tefillin; if not at once, then in due course.
The role model of the ba’al t’shuvah, Franz Rosenzweig, was asked, “Do you lay tefillin?” His answer is famous. He did not say, as most would, either “yes” or “no”; what he said was, “Not yet”.
This is the greatness of Judaism. For us, conversion (both the movement to Judaism from another faith or none, and the adoption of a deeper Jewish identity by a previously nominal Jew) is not a sudden flash, a theatrical response to a charismatic evangelist, but a first act of commitment.
And, Baruch HaShem, more and more Jews are making that first act of commitment, followed by more and more as time goes on.
It is truly a wondrous time to be a Jew when you see around you the visible evidence of “hope for our latter end”.