I wrote this for the Jewish Connection but thought that as part of my end of the year recap it merited another look.
I am an independent in many ways including both politics and religion. Every now and then someone decides to take a swipe at me because they think that I pick and choose.
For example, I don’t keep Kosher, but I would never drink a glass of milk with meat. There are other examples, but I don’t want to make this post about me but about the mysteries of Judaism.
That is the term that I used when speaking with a friend about his kollel and their outreach program to unaffiliated Jews/Jews who are unhappy with their shul. But it really is most applicable to Jews who do not have a real strong Jewish education and their approach to Judaism.
What I mean by this is that Judaism is highly sophisticated and filled with layers and layers of ritual and for a lack of a better term obligations/responsibilities that we usually refer to as the 613 mitzvot.
Add to that the minhagim (customs) that have been acquired over the centuries and many people do not know whether the things that they do are based upon minhag or halacha and even if they do they often do not know why they are being asked to do them.
Consequently there are many mitzvot that are not followed because people do not feel/see the connection and or reason for them to do it. You cannot tell someone who does not know if they believe in G-d that this being/person/creature has commanded them to do anything and expect that they are just going to do it. And you especially cannot expect a thinking adult to engage without provding them with substance and reason for why they should do whatever it is you are asking them to do.
So what you end up with is a group of people who look at the mitzvot/commandments and see them as being optional. Earlier this week Mirty wrote about her feelings when she accidentally ate something that was treif. I thought that it was interesting because my heart tells me that I should be keeping Kosher but my brain says why.
My head wants to know what is the reason. What does it do? I already know that lightning will not come out of the sky and strike me down if I do not. I know that if I drive on Shabbos I am not going to be stoned. I know that if I commit an aveirah I am probably, more than likely going to be ok.
And what this means is that I have to search harder for a reason to stop my behavior and change. I need more than just because. I need something that speaks to me and thus far I haven’t found it and I am someone who searches for answers.
Take me out of the equation and go back to the person who has little to no background. Now stick them in shul and watch how many of them squirm because they do not understand what is going on, why we bow at some times and not at others. They stumble through mechayei meytim without any idea about the hours of thought and discussion that those words created, they do not understand what they do but go because of guilt.
I watch and listen because even though I can say that I received a solid Jewish education it has some holes in it and there are places that are more like gaps. I watch because this time of year is a huge struggle for me. It makes me crazy, I go meshugah because I feel like my heart and head are in two different places. My heart says to just go with the feeling, follow the passion and daven because it will take me to where I need to be and my head scoffs at this.
My head laughs at superstition and takes a simple position of trying to be a good person. Be a good person, teach your children, give back to your community and do what you can to be a mensch and everything will work out.
I’ll go to shul and I’ll wrestle with being there. I’ll think about the streets of Yerushalayim and the hike I took in Yosemite. I’ll go to the bathroom and be distracted by beautiful women, by watching the young children look up in awe at their parents and by the sound of people davening. I’ll sit down and consider the mysteries of Judaism and ask myself how much I really know and realize that my depth of knowledge is good, but never enough. I’ll shake my head and feel like I’ll never be satisfied and then I’ll sigh.
And in between and throughout all of it I’ll come here and write a post that started out with a serious nature and just became a stream of consciousness and wonder if I really said anything or made sense to anyone.
The New Year is coming and I feel unsettled.