It is a little known lowlight of history that the Nazis were avid Judaica collectors. After Prague was occupied in 1939, the Germans nationalized the Jewish museum. Rather than destroy all the artifacts and objets d'art they had captured, they preserved them and actively added to the collection. They appointed historians and curators to catalogue the plunder of hundreds of destroyed communities and systematically set about building one of the finest collections of Judaica ever assembled.

Their motives were far from altruistic. It was their stated intention that this museum would house the last relics of an extinct race. These exhibits would be all that remained after the crematoria had swallowed our people. Kiddush cups that would never taste wine would be left to pine behind glass in the company of silent shofars and lonely matzah covers.

The defeat of Nazism did not spell liberation for those captured treasuresUnfortunately, even the defeat of Nazism did not spell liberation for those captured treasures; most still linger pitifully on display in their prisons of glass in museums worldwide. Thousands of tourists pay to admire them, but the featured exhibits are lonesome. In Judaism, ritual objects are loved and cherished for their functionality and purpose. They may be aesthetically beautiful, but it was to serve G‑d that their creators labored over them with love.

Displaying Our Wares

When I was a 20-year-old yeshivah student we received a strange request. An Israel Day fair was being planned and the directors approached us to be part of the show. They were setting up exhibits demonstrating various facets of Jewish life and they wanted a pair of Talmudic students to sit up on stage, swaying and studying, to give attendees a vignette of authentic Torah study.

Our dean refused to allow any of us to attend. He explained that he would be more than willing to send boys to mingle with the masses, put on tefillin with people and teach Torah to the crowd, but to fulfill the request the way it was couched was demeaning and self-defeating. Yeshivah students aren't museum pieces to be put on show and then packed away when the tent comes down at night. Religious people are not quaint throwbacks to a bygone age, but are living representatives of a vibrant culture. You can't admire Torah study from a distance, you've got to roll up the sleeves of your mind and get into the logic to truly appreciate it.

G‑d doesn't want admirers, He wants participantsG‑d promises us an abundance of blessings if we "Walk in My ways and guard My mitzvot, to do them."1 It is not enough just to guard the mitzvot – placing them on a pedestal, treating them with care and dusting them on schedule – you've got to actually do them.

G‑d doesn't want admirers, He wants participants. There is nothing sadder than walking into people's homes and seeing their grandfather's tefillin or their bubbe's candlesticks standing forlornly on display in the breakfront. Is that veneration or oblivion? It would be a far greater posthumous honor for our loved ones if we took the objects they venerated down from the shelf, gave them a polish and a promise and commitment to living up to their dreams.