Wednesday, October 17, 2012

“Whatever man does to man, he also does to God.”–Heschel

I came across this quote in Heschel’s book Man is Not Alone  (page 207).  What a profound and yet simple explanation of what it means to “love our neighbor.”

If we embarrass, or ridicule or belittle someone – we embarrass, ridicule or belittle God. If we commit violence or are without compassion – then we have done violence to God. This is the inverse of what is attributed to Jesus in the New Testament: “as you have done it to the least of these.” But where Jesus only mentions how the good things we do are counted as if we’ve done them to God, the idea in Judaism, the idea that Heschel proposes encompasses not just the good. The idea that our selfish actions have an impact on God  should  give us pause – and force us to think of the ramifications of all of our actions – not just on our fellow human beings – but on God. It’s the very essence of intentional living – living with a purpose, infusing the every day with the eternal. Each action we take becomes an opportunity to do good – to work toward Tikkun Olam – or to work toward only a temporal agenda.

This is what I have sensed about the beauty of Judaism and learning to think “Jewishly” – it is learning to live “intentionally.” We choose to light Shabbat candles, or study Torah, or wear tallit, or eat certain foods (or not eat certain foods) in order to give meaning to the mundane. To live with purpose and to carefully consider the implications of all of our actions – whether it is to learn Hebrew or  whether we choose to cut someone off as we drive to work . . . all of our actions are important and all of them can have eternal value.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Belated Thoughts on Yom Kippur

I hope some friends of mine will forgive me as I used parts of my post Yom Kippur emails to them to write this . . .

I cannot always explain to people the “whys” of my desire to convert to Judaism and my answers differ depending on who asks me and what I’m thinking or feeling that particular day. And yet, during the High Holy Days, I could feel the reasons I wanted to convert.

From the first strains of Kol Nidre, I sensed the millennia  behind me ... And the countless persecutions and pogroms  . . .and the voices of the Six Million ... the lament of a people longing for forgiveness, for atonement, for restoration .. . for a home. All of that history, all of those people from the past whose voices were  silenced too soon, all of the sorrowful laments of those who suffered were mingled together with those in the auditorium as I heard the mournful sounds of  Avinu Malkeinu. . . .sh’ma kolenu . . . hear our prayer . . . And I found myself so profoundly moved. I felt stirred in a way that I find hard to describe – but it shook me – profoundly – deeply – in ways I did not think were possible.

I came to Judaism so cerebrally. I was convinced by the poetic words of Abraham Heschel, by studying, and by hearing the call of Lech lecha. By calculation and by questioning I determined that this was my path – Judaism was a faith, a way of life, that seemed to coalesce with what I believed about God and the world and mankind. I have always had a more analytical approach to religion – never comfortable with outbursts of emotion or physical demonstrations like the raising of hands. High church, white bread, Anglo-Saxon, respectable and dignified. But on Yom Kippur – being hungry and thirsty – with a pounding headache – I felt so humbled and overwhelmed – and certain – all at once. I didn't know all the words to the prayers. . . I didn't know all the songs . . . I recited what I could and listened to the rest. Yet I felt so moved and so at peace. I felt that my soul had found its home after so much wandering - like this is where I was meant to be. I wanted to sway back and forth to the melody of Avinu Malkeinu – and get lost in the ancient sounds and the ancient language.
There is no religious experience in my life that I can relate it to - not baptism or first communion -nor the innumerable "walks down the aisle" to the strains of "Just as I am."  To stand in a room with hundreds of people, chanting words like, "We sin against You when we sin against ourselves.For our failures of justice, O God, we ask forgiveness. For keeping the poor in the chains of poverty, and turning a deaf ear to the cries of the oppressed." . . . and confessions of the sins of arrogance, slander, pettiness, anger . . . all out loud. . . all in unison . . . a people asking for forgiveness in community is so powerful.

They say that a convert to Judaism is one who is reclaiming or wakening their Jewish soul – something that happens when you emerge from the Mikveh . . . but on Yom Kippur, I felt as if I had received my Jewish soul early.