I actually had an entirely different post already written, but I felt it was more immediate and topical to write this one, especially coming out of Shavuos (Shavuot).
This is my own personal journey, and my hope is that by expressing it, it will open a door or shine a light on the things that you, too may be experiencing… or have experienced. We all come from different places, different backgrounds, different upbringings… but to connect on even one thing is miraculous. And of course, the big picture “one thing” is Judaism. No matter where we are in our journeys, being Jewish or even simply respecting and studying Judaism, bonds us in a most powerful way.
I was, and I suppose I still am a secular Jew.
I am not shomer Shabbos (Shabbat)… yet.
I am not Kosher… yet.
And honestly, I do not know if I will be. I know you have heard me say this before, but I have many friends who like to say, “You’ll get there.”
For me, at this point, it is truly not about the arrival and where I’ll land, but about the journey, the trip, the flight, the learning, the delving into these amazing lessons and stories and teachings. It gives me life and passion.
I have always identified with those who claimed they were “cultural Jews”… who loved the holidays and traditions and Jewish culture. And while this was important and significant and certainly better than nothing, I have only recently (within the last two years) discovered just how much I was missing. I did not understand Judaism… until now.
That is not to say I know it all… far from it. Judaism will clearly be a lifelong pursuit and enterprise… but just to be in the classroom and on the path is an amazing and essential place to be. It’s hard for me to criticize those Jews who seem to be ignorant and/or apathetic, because I was once among them. I knew very little, was swayed by things I heard or was told and made little to no effort to explore on my own. And that’s all we can do, really. Explore, learn, discover… and then make our own decisions. It is a choice!
Being “Chosen” has two sides… two steps to completion. The first is being picked, of course… being the “Chosen People.” But the second half of that, and perhaps more personally significant, is accepting that designation and then choosing back.
While I was born Jewish, it was something I did not fully or truly understand until recently.
I accepted it… I went to Hebrew School… begrudgingly…
I had a Bar Mitzvah…though I almost quit the week before…
Being Jewish was what I was… But it is now who I am!
I chose Hashem, and therefore I am a chosen one.
It all started in Israel and perhaps, in what I look at now as a pivotal moment, at Misgav Am, the kibbutz at the “edge of the world”… with views of Israel, Syria and Lebanon! Aryeh ben Yakov, who moved to Israel from Cleveland, Ohio in 1965, transformed my thoughts…
I came into that talk as an American Jew… and left as a Jewish American!
What comes first and before anything else is the soul… my Jewish soul. Where I was born… the city the state, the country… the color of my hair, the shape of my body… these are all external things placed on top of my soul… the vessel for carrying it around and into the physical world. But that spirit… that soul is what comes first and foremost.
I am at the very tip of the iceberg, as far as learning and understanding any of this… But the light, the skies, the stars and the mountains that are in front of me, are amazing and life changing.
And yet… there is still a battle…
What is fascinating to me is the role that cynicism plays in our studies… but in a positive way, if we let it, for I have also realized that there are two sides to cynicism.
There is cynical cynicism, that very negative take, where almost everything is dismissed out of hand, without exploration or consideration. This is such a dangerous proposition.
And then there is constructive cynicism, which is far more… well… constructive and productive. It allows us to not simply accept things at face value… to question… to doubt… to debate… but to be open enough to truly hear things, to take them in and let our hearts and brains mull them around. It is one of the points Rabbi Noah Weinberg (OBM) makes in his seminal work, The 48 Ways… Listen with your ears, not with your position!
So here are some of the most important take aways for me, as I wandered through the “Chood” until 4:30 in the morning this past weekend… celebrating what may be now my favorite Jewish holiday… And YES… I will sleep over at someone’s house next year! Sheesh!!!
Everyday I can learn something new and different, and the learning is key… life affirming and life giving.
We must always strive for the truth… and not strive to be right.
And the idea of Tikkun Olam, which stems from Torah, and is an essential and perhaps the only way to live! We must always try to do the right thing, and always work to be good people, good humans… and we must help heal the world!
That is why we were Chosen… to be a light unto the world. And in a world filled with darkness… Tel Aviv, Orlando, Paris, San Bernardino… we MUST shine a light, we must BE that light…