Thoughts on Judaism

Monday, March 01, 2010

Making Peace

Continuing on the theme of the earlier post, I would have to say that making peace with your place in Judaism, or any philosophy is the key to making it work as a positive in your life. As I sat at a Purim Seudah, I truly enjoyed what was going on. Previous years, I had approached many things with a trepidation. I know I am going to have to endure bromides for hours. At best, it would not be as bad as I expected. However, I have finally exorcised the demons of needing live according to what is meaningful to others.

Peace began for me as I sat once listening to a rambling speaker discuss Judaism's opinion on some social issue, when one of the audience asked a halacha question on something philosophical he had said. His response was that "you would have to ask a rav" if one were allowed to believe that. Then, it finally struck me clearly. Why should I have to ask someone what I believe or don't believe or "am allowed" to believe. I did this to myself. Once I came to that conclusion, that I would not delegate my right to decide what I believe and what I do not believe, everything fell into place.

Someone asked me how I was able to believe in Torah mi-Sinai, given my abhorrent idea of taking responsibility and ownership of my own belief system. A fair question with a simple answer. I believe in TMS for the same reason that I do anything else Jewish, because I am convinced that it is essential to Judaism. I have no real overriding reason to believe it from scientific disciplines, history or even parallel mythology. So do I believe it like our zeides did, because I am required to? Doesn't this violate my principle? Here is the difference. I must admit to myself that I am taking on this belief to make my connection with Judaism work. But I am the one who makes that choice. That is how all of our beliefs develop. In the face of inconclusive knowledge or even mounting counter evidence, we make a choice of what we believe and amble cautiously down that path. The truth is that I don't "know" that it happened or swear that it happened in any intellectual way, nor does anyone else have any better answer. None of us were there (bromides aside), at least in the sense that we remember anything that happened from direct experience. I accept that believing it makes everything else in the Torah's story work, and so I table the question with the legal presumption that it is true.

For example, I have never put much stock in "kavana", perhaps because it is contrived by its nature. Davening with clenched fist, bouncing up and down vigorously at the waist with face turning purple from stress is not my idea of getting closer to G-d. If that floats someone's boat then more power to him but it does nothing for me. I daven out of obligation, because I have chosen to do so. I do not feel G-d's presence when I do so, I do not have any indication that anyone is listening up there, I do not feel that I am "drowning" and struggling for life (as the first Chabad Rebbe put it), and I do not even fully understand all of the words or why we say them. I suspect that most others have a similar experience. So, I say the words written in front of me. I am at peace with these words, or any part of them that I choose to say or think about. And there is no reason to babble stuff that is entirely incoherent to you, unless you are doing for the public benefit. It is doing nothing for you. For me, the words say that I can't do it alone, and that I need to admit that I need help with many basic things. I am sure that G-d likes to be praised and by me no less, insecure creature that He must be and as concerned as he must be about my opinion of Him, but I do not spend a lot of time or mental energy in these portions. Rather, these praises can only be of value in convincing me of the nature of the One from whom I need help. Seriously, paragraphs in the siddur have nothing to do with my opinion or feeling about G-d or anything else. I did not write them. I did not vote on them. I do not even fully understand them. How much "kavana" is G-d expecting? Nor will I ask a rav how to have "kavana". The term means "intention". I would be asking someone else what my intention is in saying particular words. What is wrong with that picture? And what SHOULD my intention be? That is even less for someone else to answer. But for each person, answering it is the key to making peace with davening.

There is a famous chabad story where a shliach is instructed by the rebbe to encourage a particular ba'al habos to grow a beard. After several discouraging attempts, the shliach said something that inadvertently revealed to the baal habos that the rebbe had given the instruction. So, dutifully, the ba'al habos grew a beard. When the rebbe saw the man with the beard, he told the shliach, "I wanted HIM to grow a beard. This is MY beard." (Presumably, the rebbe knew all that had transpired through his super rebbe powers. Or maybe the shliach told him, it is not clear.) The teaching is sound. We need to make every aspect our own, or it is valueless. Doing things because we are told they are meaningful, is not the same as doing meaningful things. And let's face it, nowadays more than ever, if aspects of religion aren't meaningful to us, why spend any real mental energy on them? As the Gemorrah agaddah relates, "In what was you father most careful?" IOW, not everything carries the same meaning and importance to every person, and that is not only acceptable, that is the way it is supposed to be.


  • I have heard that story before.
    I enjoyed reading your post. Keep it up!!

    This is Ibrahim from Israeli Uncensored News

    By Blogger Ibrahimblogs, at 2:52 AM  

  • Great post. This is my perspective as well, although I do tend to agree with most of what Chabad states.

    By Anonymous Daniel, at 12:35 PM  

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