Finding The Holy In Unholy Places And Unholy Times — By Marc

That sounds a little dramatic… and I am not trying to be like a typical evening news story and create a catchy and tidy, catch-phrase headline to help define (and perhaps even sell) a tragedy. Though… the last few weeks have shown us some horrific images and incidents… and all too often it does seem like we are living in an unholy time.

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It’s too easy to succumb to the hate and violence and disappointment we see on television. We must realize that this does not represent everyone and every place… and that bad news and violence sells a lot more than happy times and peace.

However… it is also easy to lose faith in actual humanity at times. The gentleman that I was in the fender bender with (two posts ago)… with minor scratches to his bumper and nothing else, has now hired an attorney and is claiming who knows what. So much for taking care of things on our own and in a friendly manner.

I wish I could claim that I do not harbor him any ill will for his behavior… and I will wait to see what he is actually trying to get… but it does greatly disappoint me and make me question a person’s word… or this person’s word.

My idea of “unholy”, for the purpose of this post, simply means places that are not instantly or usually regarded as being holy… though by the end of this post, we will all hopefully realize that EVERY PLACE is in fact a holy place… or at the very least has the ability to be one if we open ourselves up to it, recognize it and let it be.

My dear friend Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld asks a question which is almost unanswerable and yet we know it to be true, because it is something that happened. He asks not how the Jews survived the Holocaust, but “How did G-d survive?”

People who witnessed the worst of mankind, the most horrific and unimaginable torture, pain and brutality came out of the camps still believing in G-d. Not all… we know many lost their faith… but Judaism is still here. And one can ask this question again and again, sadly… after the pogroms… the Spanish Inquisition and on and on.

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He also says, if you are Jewish and continue to believe and practice, it is because someone or many people who came before you continued to believe and practice. Or… that you came back on your own.

This is where I seem to fit in… My grandfather and great-grandfather on my father’s side were atheists. We never had Shabbat in my house growing up… my brother, who went to Israel and came back almost Rabbinical, is still Jewish, but more agnostic. I am the only one out of almost everyone in my family on the path.

The Holocaust question is too overwhelming and complex, so we will move away from that one for the time being. And Shlomo just informed us last night that he will be doing a class on this very subject, so I will leave that to him.

Let me take you back to November of 2014… Jerusalem… Night…

The very first question Shlomo asked me… asked our group… was actually more of a challenge… and ironically, continues to be a challenge. It was the JMI Men’s Trip in 2014.  Most of us (so sorry for those who missed it) walked to the Kotel at two in the morning on our very first night in Jerusalem. It was a tense time in Israel and a lot of things were going down, so winding through the dark and shadowy alleys in the Old City was… intimidating…

Okay, I was nervous and scared… but at the same time, I felt surprisingly safe… And once the Kotel was visible… Wow… breathtaking and so long overdue.

We went into what is best described as a library/Shul area off to the left and set up chairs in a circle…
The challenge… the question that Shlomo asked all of us, was how do we bring these feelings… this experience… this energy and connection and the very Kotel itself… back with us and into our daily lives… back into our homes, to be shared with our family and friends and loved ones.

That’s all easy when you are sitting at the Western Wall... next to the very site of THE TEMPLE… When you are tired… exhausted really… when all guards are down and you have no choice but to be completely open… when your emotions are flowing and your heart is about to burst.

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Being holy in Israel is easy, especially in Jerusalem… and even more so standing at the Kotel, perhaps the holiest place in the world for Jews. Same with Masada and in Tzfat. Though, of course, if you lived there year round there would be the challenges that do not face a tourist, like bills and job and relationship issues and, well… everyday life…

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Being holy is easy in Shul, when you are surrounded and often inspired by those who seem so taken with and empowered by the prayers and chants. When you are being led through a service, you can pick up on the enthusiasm of the Rabbi or leader and be influenced by the energy of the room.

So the bigger question is how do we create this same passion… this same connection and relevance and importance on our own?

And then it hit me… all of the studying I am doing… everything I am learning filtered into a few essential ideas. The one consistent throughout all of this… is Hashem. (And if there are non-Jewish readers reading this… fill it in with whatever you wish).

While the Kotel and the land of Israel is ideal and the backdrop for so many of our most amazing stories and our very history… we do believe that Hashem is everywhere… and thus, every single place has the ability… and in point of fact… IS HOLY.

The other consistent is us… and by this I mean our souls. No matter where our body is physically… our souls are also and always connected to Hashem… and so, even in the most horrible of situations or places or times… in the moments that we perceive as being “unholy” or not conducive to the ideal set of circumstances we would like to have… we can connect and bond and celebrate and appreciate Hashem.

It requires us to make a huge leap of faith, if you will… and something that I have understood… perhaps more, and up until now, actually, from the secular world… and that is that there is so much we do not know… so much we cannot possibly understand… and yet, to fully believe in Hashem we have to embrace this unknown… celebrate it.

Atheists will argue that science defeats religious beliefs… renders them false. It’s actually quite the opposite. Elie D and I were discussing this very idea last night. While science allows us to see more and more… discover more and more… it does NOT take away from the amazing miracles that exist… and in fact, it actually illuminates them!

A seed goes into the ground… it has no wood in it… leaves in it… fruit in it… and yet from the seedling, from the ground… comes a tree made of wood and bark and bearing fruit. That’s a pretty big miracle! (Thanks Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky for that one!)

“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”
                                                                           – Charles Bukowski

Easy!  I am NOT saying Atheists are stupid… What I AM saying… is that we as Jews wrestle with the idea of G-d… the universe… Well… everything… and Atheists seem to be pretty adamant and 100% certain that there is no G-d… that science and randomness is all there is…

I don’t like random… it’s hard to sleep with thoughts of random… and that, my friends… is yet another subject to come back to. Phew!

In a seminar with Kyle Cease, the stand up comedy version of Tony Robbins he says just this… “Embrace the unknown.” We must love it and celebrate it and move into it with open hearts and open minds.

The brilliant Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady sings:
“Nobody knows why Elvis threw it all away
Nobody knows what Ruby had to hide
Nobody knows why some of us get broken hearts
And some of us find a world that’s clear and bright

You could be packed up and ready
Knowing exactly where to go
How come you miss the connection?
No use in asking, the answer is nobody knows
No use in asking, the answer is nobody knows.”

So I guess to sum things up, we must be fully aware that we are holy… our souls, and yes our bodies are holy… as we were all created by Hashem… who is certainly holy.

And there is holiness in places and things… like nature (easier to see there, than perhaps in a cubicle or doctor’s office)… but there is holiness in everything.

We must accept this… embrace it… open ourselves up to it… and open ourselves to the unknown and accept that there is much we do not understand.

If we live holy lives, and to me that simply means that we love ourselves and others, and ALWAYS try to do the right thing… by and for ourselves and others… then we will be HOLY… no matter where we are or what is going on around us. But we must make the effort… We CAN actually choose happiness… almost always. We CAN ACTUALLY choose to see the good… To stop and smell and touch and appreciate and love the roses…

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Easy? Hardly… but so worth the effort… so let us all be HOLY ROLLERS!

(A special shout out to Aryeh, Az, and Shlomo… and AISH LA and David O. Thanks for the trip of a lifetime.)

 

 

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