Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with a visitor to our website, a woman in her mid-50s. Sarah* was baptized as a child and grew up “in the church,” but always felt an affinity to the Jewish People. She even recalls mentioning to her parents that she wished she were Jewish, which they dismissed despite her maternal grandparents’ very Jewish-sounding last name.
Later in life, she developed an interest in genealogy, and began to research her family tree. Slowly but surely, the evidence became incontrovertible: she was, in fact, a Jew all along. It turned out that her grandparents had barely escaped the Holocaust, and with her parents had conspired to hide their Jewish identity from her siblings and cousins.
What is most remarkable about this story is not merely her discovery, but that her desire to learn more about Judaism had in fact preceded it. Now it is truly a journey of self-discovery as well. Her Jewish soul was calling to her, and over time it became impossible to ignore.
In just a week’s time, we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuos, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. But because Judaism teaches that the spiritual energies of each holiday return to the world each year at that time, it is by no means merely a commemoration, but a time uniquely appropriate for receiving the Torah, for increasing our knowledge and understanding.
-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“Is it Time for More?”
In less than a week, I’ll be attending the First Fruits of Zion 2012 Shavuot Conference in Hudson, WI. In my case, it will be an interesting experience but not one like the situation described by Rabbi Menken. It is true that I am “attracted” to Judaism, its customs and traditions, its teachings and philosophy, but at the same time, I’m very conscious of how “alien” an environment it is. While I “borrow” a great deal of my source material from Chabad.org, I am aware, primarily through my wife, of how much of a “goy” I am, particularly in relation with my brief, periodic contacts with our local Chabad community.
So what am I doing here?
Believe it or not, I ask myself that question a lot. The simple and straightforward answer is that I have no where else to go. When I stop for a moment on my particular journey, and take stock of how far I’ve come and where I am now, I find that I’m swimming in some strange lagoon or tide pool off to the side of traditional Christianity and Judaism. Though you may not believe it, in many ways that body of water is fed more by Christianity, at least culturally, than by Judaism.
I was made particularly aware of that this morning when I read the part of Rabbi Menken’s missive that said:
So please take this as an invitation. The reason why we have these chat and e-mail services are so that people in distant locations, and people who are not ready to walk into a class, can make contact and get some guidance as to the next steps they might take. Rather than replying to this email, the best ways to reach us are via chat on Torah.org, or a question on JewishAnswers.org… or perhaps a comment, which you can tell us is not to be published!
I’ve met more than a few non-Jewish people in the Hebrew Roots movement who felt that their story was, or should be like, the one described by Rabbi Menken and, the fact that they were attracted to Judaism meant that they were some sort of “crypto-Jew” with hidden Jewish relatives lurking somewhere in their distant history. For the woman Rabbi Menken describes, this was actually true, but for most of us who lean more toward Jewish educational resources than the latest devotionals found in the local Christian bookstore, it is not.
So what’s the story for the rest of us?
I have no idea.
Oh, I can weave theories and engage in guesswork, but that’s all it is…theories and guesswork.
As I was reading this morning, I imagined that at the upcoming Shavuot conference, I would be doing this with the others in attendance:
Give thanks to Hashem, declare His Name, make His acts known among the peoples. Sing to Him, make music to Him, speak of all His wonders. Glory in His Holy Name, may the heart of those who seek Hashem be glad. Search out Hashem and His might, seek His Presence always. –Psalm 105:1-4 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
And yet given the mixed crowd of Jews and non-Jews present to give honor and glory to the Jewish Messiah, I wondered if the following was also part of the reason for me being there:
Thus said Hashem, Master of Legions; In those days, it will happen that ten men, of all the [different] languages of the nations, will take hold, they will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” –Zechariah 8:23 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
I’ve recently written on more than one occasion that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), which are the Master’s own words. Given the amount of “push back” that I’ve received from the traditional Christian perspective, it’s hard to imagine a time when the prophesy of Zechariah 8:23 will come to pass, unless none of those ten men are Christian.
On the other hand, the prophet may have been speaking of a time when we will all realize that Christianity can no longer afford to be divorced from Judaism, and that Jews and Gentiles who are devoted to God and particularly those who are disciples of the Master, must find times to join together and “give thanks to Hashem, declare His Name, (and) make His acts known among the peoples.”
As for now, there are still many barriers between human beings and this kind of unity and peace. We should take advantage or those rare times when we, who have different backgrounds and traditions, can join together “in spirit and in truth” and give thanks to the glory of God together. I join my Jewish brothers and sisters, along with many other believing Gentiles on Shavuot, not to seek my Jewish soul or to imagine I’m someone that I’m not, but to summon some slender thread at the corner of the garment of Zechariah’s prophesy, take hold of it, and to allow the barriers that separate us to become the walls of the corridors that lead us all to Messianic peace and fellowship.
Nothing limits you, no force that holds you captive—other than a fiction of your imagination.
So you will say, “What, then, of the forces of nature? Of the constraints of a human body? Of the hard reality that slams against me when I attempt to stride through the barriers of life?”
Yes, they are there. But they are not what they seem to be.
They are not there to oppose you, but to carry you. As your soul pulls forward, those barriers force her inward, towards her deepest, strongest self.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Pushed From Behind”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson