I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t love a parade. The first one I remember attending was as a 10-year-old. My parents took my brother and me to what was then called the “Santa Claus Lane Parade,” which took place just after Thanksgiving Day and made its way down Hollywood Boulevard. There were movie and TV stars as well as the people on horses and floats. I remember it being a lot of fun.
Until last July 14 I had never attended a military parade. You know the kind where soldiers and sailors walk in a procession down a large, wide boulevard. They are typically accompanied by a very awesome display of military firepower, such as tanks and missiles and rockets of all sizes and descriptions. The highlight of a military parade is usually not what is on the ground but rather what files overhead. At the end of the parade one hears from a distance a sound of approaching aircraft and then — to everyone’s amazement and delight — a squad of jets fly over in a precise formation, usually leaving behind a plume of colored smoke. Everyone cheers and yells and then leaves the parade route feeling quite proud of the strength and power of the military branch or country that sponsored the event.
This past July 14, Carol and I were in Paris and attended the Bastille Day parade commemoration of French Independence Day. Hundreds of thousands of people were in attendance lining the Champs Elysees. The weather was perfect and the participants were dressed in all their military finery. Actually, the group that got the largest round of applause didn’t come from the military but rather from the fire department. The event was a lot of fun and I was glad that I took the time to see it.
What do we have in Judaism that comes closest to a military parade? It occurred to me that every Sabbath morning, when we take out the Torah and walk around the sanctuary, we are actually simulating a military parade. No guns, not tanks, no jet planes to impress onlookers. But when the Torah is carried down the aisles of the temple, people of all ages stand at attention and show it the highest form of respect. Many even are eager to touch or even kiss what is contained on that long roll of parchment: commandments and laws and guidelines for living a moral and satisfying life. We also know that the Torah we are viewing is but one in a long history of Torahs that have been carried from one country to another as we Jews have been exiled and escaped from the power of ruthless and evil leaders.
One of the biblical prophets once declared: “Not by might, nor by power — but by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.” The spirit of God is found in the Torah. We Jews have rarely given over our trust to weapons of mass destruction. For we know that stronger and more powerful weapons are always being created. Egypt was defeated by Assyria and Assyria by Babylonia and Babylonia by the Romans and on and on and on. But we Jews are still alive and our survival can be attributed to the most portable weapon ever created: the Torah. We have carried it from one land to another. Other armies may defeat armies with more potent weapons. But any army that relies on the word of God is invincible.
So the next time you see the Torah being marched around think of it as the major weapon in the battle for goodness and justice. Salute the Torah, cheer the Torah and, above all, honor the Torah for it is the greatest safeguard and protection we have.
Lawrence Goldmark is the rabbi at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada.