Tag Archives: hope

Dancing with God on Yom Kippur

Dancing with GodThe Chazon Ish, zt”l, would say that one cannot learn how to learn Torah on his own. “You need to speak to those who know how to learn to get a feel for it.”

Rav Chaim Chaikel of Hamdurah, zt”l, expended great efforts to fix his soul before finally becoming a student of the Maggid of Mezritch, zt”l. He fasted many days, did various self-mortifications and even stayed up one thousand nights in a row learning Torah diligently. Nevertheless, he felt that his soul lacked completion until he met the Maggid.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Absorbing the Flavor”
Chullin 99

As a mother and the baby she holds in her arms, as a father and child, as two in courtship or in marriage, so we are with Him. One chases, the other runs away. One runs away, the other chases. One initiates, the other responds. The other initiates, the one responds. It is a dance, a game, a duet that plays as surely as the pulse of life.

Until one falls away and becomes estranged. Then the other looks and says, “This is not an other. We are one and the same.” And so, they return to each other’s arms once again.

It is a great mystery, but in estrangement, there is found the deepest bond.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Dance with the Other”
Yom Kippur Meditations
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I’m about four months into my current “experiment”; my expressions and self-discoveries in my “morning meditations”. I have been attempting to explore my Christianity through the lens of Judaism and have recently hit something of a speed bump. In pursuing the Journey of the Ger Toshav (you’ll have to read all three blog posts to get the full picture), I came to the realization (with some help, of course), that Christianity and Judaism are fully incompatible. I mean that in the sense that Jews consider Christians to be idol worshipers and polytheists in that (from a Jewish perspective) worship a man as “god” and worship three “gods”. Christians, for their part, see Jews as lost in a “dead, works-based, religion”, who have been abandoned by God and replaced with the church.

That’s a mess.

For my part, I see great beauty in the practices and teachings of Judaism, but all of that isn’t brought into focus without keeping Jesus as Savior, Messiah, and Lord at the heart of faith and trust.

I have been on a journey to discover two things. The first is obvious; a deeper and continuing relationship with God. The second may not have been readily apparent and is a form of community and fellowship. I left my previous community for a variety of reasons, including the desire to worship and study with my wife within her own faith context. So far that hasn’t worked out. I am, or I thought I was, positioned to enter into her realm, but if being a Christian makes my presence unacceptable in the Jewish world, then my desire will never work out.

Fog alleyOf course, I’m only four months into this journey and I have promised myself to wait a full year (barring an encounter with a complete show-stopper) before pursuing a different course in my faith. Still, sometimes the journey is dark and the fog starts to hide the path.

The Days of Awe are just made for intense self-reflection and sometimes self-doubt, it seems. As Rabbi Freeman says above, there’s this “push-pull” engagement with God that is especially acute right now, but it spills over into human relationships, too. But if I have no union with a community, can I still seek a union with God?

The desire to return is innate, but it must be awakened. The soul must first realize she is distant. Return in all its strength and passion is found, therefore, in the soul who has wandered far from her true self and then awakened to recognize she is lost. We are like the child being pushed on a swing by her father — the further our souls are thrust away, the greater the force of our return.

Rabbi Freeman
“G-d’s Fishing Net”
Yom Kippur Meditations

But is the effort to “swing back” to God a dance or a fight?

As we find on today’s daf, gid hanasheh was prohibited since the time of Yaakov Avinu. It is surely interesting that the angel chose to fight specifically with Yaakov. Why don’t we find that Avraham or Yitzchak had an altercation with a heavenly representative of evil?

The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, learns a very powerful lesson from this. “Avraham Avinu was especially involved in kindness. And Yitzchak was very focused on avodas Hashem, on prayer and meditation. The first two avos were not attacked by an angel since focusing on doing good deeds or praying is not so threatening to the yetzer hara. As our sages revealed, Hashem said, ‘I created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah to temper it.’ Yaakov focused on learning Torah. It is clear that this is why he was attacked. The yetzer hara can tolerate anything else. But when it comes to learning Torah he puts up a much greater fight since only Torah is an assault upon its very existence.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Fighting Against the Angel”
Chillun 100

GiftThat’s midrash of course, but makes a point. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, especially a relationship with God. Our human natures and human beings around us will always resist devotion to God and walking in His ways, instead taking us down into the abyss. Yet the part of us made in God’s own image creates an irresistible need to rise from the depths. It’s like taking a beach ball and pushing it underwater in a swimming pool; the further under the surface you push it, the greater the ball’s push to return to the air.

There’s a well known idiom in Hebrew that says, “Yeridah Letzorech Aliyah” meaning “descent for the sake of ascent”. With the approach of Yom Kippur and at this moment in my life, the trail has taken a downward turn. The shadows are lengthening and the air contains a freezing fog. Yet, the path must eventually turn upward again toward the sun. Perhaps then, in my pursuit of holiness and community, I’ll find myself dancing with God on Yom Kippur.

In the end, hope is the only tool that works when all other tools fail, but even hope can be a slender thread.

A Voice of Silence

Infinite darknessAllow me to relate a story a friend of mine tells about one of his early childhood experiences. This is how he relates the event:

“When I was about four years old, I awoke from my nap one day, ventured out of my room, and walked through the house. No one was there. I tentatively called out for my mother, but there was no reply. Slowly, a realization dawned on my little mind: ‘It’s finally happened. My parents have abandoned me…’

“I raced to the phone on the kitchen wall and dialed the operator. ‘That’s it,’ I told her, between sobs, ‘my parents are gone; I’m all alone now.’ The operator stayed on the phone with me until, sure enough, my mother did come home. She had slipped out for a few minutes to pick up some milk. It was, however, an experience I shall never forget.”

Now, if you will, perform a little mental exercise. Imagine for a moment that you are four years old. Your parents are everything to you. Consider the terror you would feel thinking they have abandoned you, leaving you to somehow manage life on your own. Of course, as an adult, you know that this would never happen. However, as a child, you would not have known this. The threat would have seemed real. How does that terror feel?

-David Fohrman
“Holy Days: A Relationship with God”

So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.I Kings 19:11-12 (NASB)

In his book God in Search of Man (page 186), Abraham Joshua Heschel says the words translated as “a sound of a gentle blowing” (more commonly translated as “a small, still voice”) in Hebrew are literally “a voice of silence”. It was as if Elijah heard something and yet nothing at all. Does “silence” make a sound?

We know from the larger narrative in I Kings that Elijah felt very much alone and abandoned, and that he expected to die, either by the hand of his pursuers or by God’s. Like David Fohrman’s “abandoned” four-year old, how many of us feel abandoned and alone because we think God has left us and because of God’s “voice of silence”?

In Judaism it is believed that God opens the Book of life on Rosh Hashanah and closes it again at the end of Yom Kippur. Between those two events, there are ten days of teshuvah; ten days in which a Jew still has time to turn from his sins, abandon them completely, throw himself at the feet of God, and beg that his name be inscribed in the Book for another year. Right now, we are in the middle of those ten days.

But how would he know? Unless God explicitly reveals to the person that his name has been written in the Book of Life, how would he know, except for the fact that day by day, he doesn’t die? Where is the voice of God when call to Him and ask, “Have You written me in the Book?”

If you are a Christian, you probably think such concerns are ridiculous or at least misplaced. You’ve been taught that once you were saved when you initially accepted Jesus, your salvation was secure and your place in Heaven was carved in stone. Of course, none of that means you can’t die at any second or that you don’t carry some burden of sins from one day to the next. Christians tend to take salvation for granted and even get a little lazy in their “Christian walk” from time to time (Christian blogger Antwuan Malone commented on this a few days ago).

How do we know when we’re forgiven? How does God reveal this to us? Do we even understand when He is speaking? For that matter, how did the great prophets of old such as Moses know when God was speaking? It certainly seemed a mysterious process to Elijah. Was it also a mystery at Sinai?

“It is very difficult to have a true conception of the events at Sinai, for there has never been before nor will there ever be again anything like it.” (Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, Book II, ch. 33) “We believe,” says Maimonides, “that the Torah has reached Moses from God in a manner which is described in Scripture figuratively by the term ‘word,’ and that nobody has ever known how that took place except Moses himself to whom that word reached. -Heschel, pg 185

We may sometimes feel absolutely certain we have heard from God, but articulating that experience to others is almost impossible, probably for the same reasons Heschel believes that we will never understand the experience of Moses at Sinai or at the burning bush. He goes on to say (pg 185):

This is why all the Bible does is to state that revelation happened; how it happened is something they could only convey in words that are evocative and suggestive.

Stand aloneHeschel shoots down the hopes and dreams of many Bible literalists by stating that the “surest way of misunderstanding revelation is to take it literally” (pg 178) and that we do not give the Bible or God what is owed by interpreting the words literally because we almost always impart an understanding that “would be a partial, shallow understanding; because the literal meaning is but a minimum of meaning.” In other words, the Prophets, and the Apostles most likely didn’t exaggerate their claims but simply described the ineffable experience of God within the inadequate limits of human language. God, after all, is so much more than what the Bible could possibly contain.

Meanwhile, here we are, trapped in the ten days of teshuvah and waiting for the silent and elusive voice of God. Here we are, trapped on Earth in a mortal life, struggling with sin, hardship, and sometimes tragedy, begging for God to answer our cries, pleading with Him not to leave us alone and defenseless in a harsh and cold universe. What Jews experience within the ten days, should be what rest of us experience in the course of our lives:

Herein lies a connection to the above concepts. Our Sages describe the days preceding Yom Kippur with the verse: “Seek G-d while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” At this time, everyone has the potential to feel close to G-d, and therefore the Arizal says: “If a person does not cry during the Ten Days of Teshuvah, his soul is not complete.” Reading Parshas Haazinu before Yom Kippur highlights the fact that each of us is “close to the heavens.”

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Close to the Heavens”
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 415;
Vol. IX, p. 204; Vol. XX, p. 266

Faith is believing God is near when we cannot perceive Him. Faith is knowing that God is speaking even when we can hear only a complete and total silence. Faith is a four-year old waking up from a nap, finding himself home alone, but knowing his mother will be right back. But like a four-year old home alone, crying for his mother and hearing no reply, how can we help but believe that we really have been abandoned, even when faith tells us we’re not? Even if we experience an unexplanable “something”, how do we know it is God except that faith guides us to believe?

The word of God is not just information and it is not just comfort, it is the very air we breathe and the very food that sustains us:

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” –Matthew 4:4 (Deut. 8:3)

In the absence of the words of God, we are not only alone and terrified, but we are starving and gasping for our last breath!

The revelation of God is a paradox. He is near because His Word is near, but He is also a God with a voice that is silence and who dwells in unknowable darkness.

The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad;
let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. –Psalm 97:1-2

God made Himself known to the Children of Israel violently and in raging fire at Sinai (Exodus 19:18; Deuteronomy 4:11) yet spoke in less than a whisper to Elijah and somehow, He speaks to us, though we may not ever hear Him.

“Every intelligent person knows” that when the Bible asserts that the people saw and heard the voice at Sinai, it does not refer to a “perception by the eye” or “a perception of the ear,” but to a spiritual perception. -Heschel pg 188

A man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. –1 Corinthians 2:14

HopeThe only way we can experience God is through His Spirit for without it, we are blind and deaf, though God may be “shouting”. In the ten days of teshuvah, Jews stand apart from the din of the world and listen for the “small, still voice,” straining to hear God speaking while He turns the pages of the Book of Life. We shudder in fear and awe at any sound that may be Him writing our name into that Book. Even a Christian knows that there will be a day of reckoning when the Book will be opened and then closed one final time and our fate will be sealed within. A Jew does not take for granted that all is secure, even though he may pray three times daily while facing Holy Jerusalem. While we believers are certain of the grace of Christ, why should our confidence turn into arrogant presumption? Let us also tremble before God, for we cannot know ourselves and our lives as He knows us. And we cannot know Him as He knows Himself.

Christianity has no time in its calendar like the Days of Awe. Not even the passion of Easter approachs it; when man and God become almost inseparably close, though for man, it still feels as if the expansive gulf of the universe stands between us and Him. God will never abandon us, but we can be far from Him. Imagine you had only ten days to somehow bridge the immense gap between human beings and the Divine. Impossible? Do you feel the terror welling up inside of you at the prospect? What will you do? Where will you look? How will you know when God is close? What will His voice “sound” like?

We must look, but not with our eyes. We must listen, but not with our ears. We must reach out, but not with our hands.

He is speaking. But His voice is silent and His light shines in unbroken darkness.

Reach for hope. He is coming.

Even now – the word of Hashem – return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with lamentation. Rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to Hashem your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and He relents of evil. Whoever knows, let him repent and regret. and it will leave a blessing behind it, for meal-offering and libation to Hashem your God. –Joel 2:12-14 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Failure to Escape

PrisonRabbeinu Yonah, zt”l, teaches a lesson of teshuvah from a statement on today’s daf. “One who repeats one sin ten times has transgressed ten sins. We learn this from a nazir. A nazir gets a separate spate of lashes for every time he drank wine if the witnesses warned him before each drink.

“Even for a person who keeps the entire Torah, there is often at least one sin that he violates without much inhibition. He acts as though this sin is no sin at all. Even if this lax attitude extended to only one sin that would be serious enough. But most people have many areas that they do not take seriously. Some say the Name of heaven in vain. Others are not careful that their hands or the place they are in be clean before they say God’s Name. Some turn a blind eye to the poor, or one’s weakness may be slander, baseless hatred or arrogance. Or it may that he gazes at the forbidden. And laxness in the hardest mitzvah to fulfill properly is all too common: Torah study which counts like the entire Torah.

“It is therefore proper for every ba’al teshuvah to write down his flaws and mistakes and read this book every day. In that manner he will surely repent.”

Rabbeinu Yonah provides a famous parable on the importance of teshuvah. “This is likened to people who were jailed and managed to dig a tunnel out of their cell. Everyone escaped except one man. When the jailor noticed the tunnel and that everyone had escaped he began beating the man. ‘You fool! Why didn’t you take the opportunity and escape like everyone else?’”

When the Chiddushei HaRim, zt”l, quoted this Rabbeinuu Yonah he taught a brilliant lesson. “We see that failing to do teshuvah is worse than sinning in the first place!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“Get Out of Jail”
Chullin 82

How interesting. If sin is putting yourself in jail, then teshuvah, the process of turning from sin back to God, is escaping from jail. We don’t normally consider a jailbreak in a positive, moral light, but think about it. If you are put in jail as the consequence of committing a crime, you wait passively. There is little or nothing you can do to secure your release except to wait for time to pass and your sentence to be up. You do not participate in your redemption in any way.

On the other hand, a jailbreak is an active process. It requires planning, gathering the right tools and, in some cases, organizing the different roles required for the escape with other people. You aren’t simply going to be released just because you’re waiting around. You actually have to do something about it. So it is with the process of repentence. So it is with the activity of making teshuvah. It won’t happen unless you take an active part.

But as in Rabbeinu Yonah’s parable, there will always be those people who, for whatever reason, continue to allow themselves to be imprisoned when they could have escaped and become free again. Failure to make amends, to repent, to turn from sin, and return to God is worse than the sin that landed you in jail in the first place.

But there’s more.

Both Passover and bringing of the first fruits are times when we must recognize our blessings and their origin. They say “there are no atheists in foxholes,” but foxholes are a lousy place to get religion! The Torah wants us to develop a connection with happiness and love, rather than fear. The curses found in this week’s reading only come about “because you did not serve HaShem your G-d with joy and a good heart, from an abundance of all.” [Deuteronomy 28:47]

-Rabbi Yaakov Menkin
Director, Project Genesis

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about the mystery of “joy”. About six months ago, I wrote something called Failing Joy 101. By nature, I’m not a continuously happy or joyous person. I don’t walk around with a smile on my face all the time. I don’t always approach the day with boundless enthusiasm. I even sometimes find people who really are cheerful all the time as kind of annoying. And yet we have this. Not only are we to stage a jailbreak when we are incarcerated within sin, but essentially, we’re to do so with a song of joy in our hearts.

And if we don’t, it’s a sin. It’s sin that gets us in jail in the first place. It’s sin that keeps us in jail when we could escape. And it’s sin, even when we escape, if we don’t do so joyfully.

I think I’m getting a headache.

Joyous enthusiasm is the child of inspiration. It is the emotional elixir that galvanizes, energizes, electrifies our lives. It empowers us to move mountains and make impossible dreams come true. Without joy, we plod mechanically toward our goals, seeking relief rather than fulfillment, but with joy we soar toward glittering mountaintops.

Clearly then, joy is a critical factor in our service of the Creator. It infuses every observance, every prayer, every moment of study with a divine energy that brings us that much closer to our Father in Heaven. One of the Chassidic masters once said, “Joy is not a commandment, but no commandment can accomplish what joy can.”

But what if a person cannot achieve joy? What if a person is overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life and is unable to free his spirit and let it soar? Surely, he does not deserve to be condemned and chastised for this failure. Surely, he should continue to serve the Creator to the best of his ability even if his efforts are less than inspired.

-Rabbi Naftali Reich
“The Little Voice”
Commentary on Parshas Ki Savo

DespairIt’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who thinks about these things. Rabbi Reich goes on to say, “Some commentators resolve this perplexing problem homiletically. They read the verse as follows, ‘Because you did not serve Hashem your Lord – with joy.’ It is not the absence of joy which is deserving of punishment but rather the presence of inappropriate joy.’

Let’s go back to the inmate who refused to escape from jail. Why wouldn’t he leave? Why stay in sin…unless he liked it there.

I don’t know if Rabbi Reich is reaching a little too far for a solution, but it is one that we could consider. As the Rabbi says, it’s “one thing to fall short in the service of Hashem, to fall victim to the weakness of the flesh. But it is quite another to revel in sinfulness, to delight in the saccharine juices of forbidden fruit.” So the absence of joy in our acts committed for the service of the Creator may not be desirable, that’s not where our sin lies.

A king was angry with his son for neglecting his princely duties. He decided to discipline him by banishing him incognito to a remote village.

When the prince arrived in the village of his banishment, he was mortified. The place was a collection of rude huts without the most basic comforts and refinements of polite society. There were no books or works of art for miles around. The people were vulgar and ignorant. The stench in the streets was overpowering.

A year passed, and the king began to reconsider his decree of banishment against the young prince. But first he sent spies to see how the prince was faring.

The spies arrived in the village, but it was a while before they located the prince sitting among a group of peasants in a barnyard. The once handsome and elegant young prince was filthy and dressed in vermin-infested rags. He was stuffing his face with half raw meat, the red juices running down his chin. Every few minutes, he would roar with laughter at one or another of the coarse peasant stories that were being bandied about. The spies immediately returned to the palace to report on what they had seen.

When the king heard their report, he wept. “If my son is happy among the peasants, he will never be a prince.”

The parable quoted from Rabbi Reich’s commentary tells the same story as Rabbeinu Yonah’s parable. Two men were sentenced to isolation from the world of faith and hope for a certain time. The intent was to teach them, in their misery, that they should desire to return to their former lives and learn appreciation for what was temporarily denied them. Instead, we find that the opposite happened. Both men learned to become accustomed to their life of depravity and sinfulness. I suspect both men lost hope because without hope, there can never be joy.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:12-13

I suspect that Paul could write these words with sincerity because he had hope in Jesus. It was a hope that transcended circumstances and became interwoven with the very fabric of his being. It is a hope that only true trust and faith in God can create and nurture. Knowing God exists provides a certain amount of comfort. Having absolute trust in Him, regardless of your situation is where one discovers faith, hope, and finally, joy.

While we are expected to somehow just “have” these treasures, they don’t simply lie along the common path, like wildflowers growing out of the gravel. Digging an escape tunnel doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of effort. So, for at least some of us, does the search for the fruits of the spirit.

If we have no joy in our hearts, we deny the love of God. We should not say, “Our heart is the dwelling place of lust, jealousy, anger; there is no hope for us.” Let us realize that we have another guest in us who desires to give us life and joy, notwithstanding our sin.

-Paul Philip Levertoff
Love and the Messianic Age

There’s another reason why the prisoner might choose not to escape; not due to any attraction to or love of sin, but because of the futility of hoping that any escape would be permanent or even long lived. Perhaps the son of David was right after all.

The road

The road is long and often, we travel in the dark.

Waiting for the Dawn

Waiting for the dawn“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:25-27

Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, provides an incisive explanation of a statement on today’s daf. “On Menachos 103 we find that the curse in the verse (Devarim 28:66) – ‘And you will not believe in your life’—refers to one who must purchase bread daily from a baker.

“On the surface this seems very difficult to understand. Surely during our sojourn in the desert when the manna came down each day we were not in this category. Yet wouldn’t a person who had children wonder about his livelihood for the next day, since he was relying on another miracle for his family’s food? How can we understand this? Is it plausible to say that God told us about a punishment which will happen in terrible times if it was a curse we suffered daily for forty years?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“Daily Bread”
Menachos 103

Give us today our daily bread.Matthew 6:11

Despite the words quoted above, I still worry. Not all the time, but sometimes. To be fair, I don’t doubt that you worry, too.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with the realization that I now have no congregation with which to worship on Shabbat. For reasons too numerous to mention, I found it necessary to end my relationship with a congregation where I had fellowship and taught for many years (though I did mention something about it in the first post in this blog series). I do have a “plan” in mind for my future, but I am also acutely aware that my plans aren’t the deciding factor in what is going to actually happen:

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” –Luke 12:16-20

I find it somewhat ironic that after Jesus told this parable, he delivered a message to his audience saying not to worry (Luke 12:22-32, also related in Matthew 6:25-34). I suppose the irony goes away when you consider the overall message is that we should not trust in our own abilities and plans to take care of our needs but rather, we should rely on God. That said, I still invest in a 401K and other, similar plans with an eye on retiring someday.

For the past two years, and very specifically during the past year, I have been considering and pondering the decision I’ve just recently made. If you’ve been reading the other posts on this blog or any of my “essays” on my previous personal blog, you’ll realize that I don’t think “the church” would be a good fit for my worship and faith needs. My viewpoint on God, Jesus, the Bible, and Judaism is too out-of-step with Christianity’s perspective on such things. I don’t believe the Law is dead (for Jews, that is). I don’t believe God undid or took back all of the covenent promises He made to the Children of Israel and transferred them to “the church” (non-Jewish Christians). I certainly don’t believe that God now requires that all Jewish people who want to worship the Jewish Messiah and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must renounce their religious, ethnic, and cultural Jewish heritage.

I’m an oddball.

But where does that leave me?

I have not be able to worship with my wife for many years due to the gulf that exists between her faith context and mine. Part of the reason I recently left my former congregation was in an effort to reduce that gulf and hopefully even to fully bridge the gap. While I’m not giving up my faith, I would be content to worship with her in the same “house of study” since after all, God is One.

But that’s not entirely up to me.

WorryingIn turning myself over to God’s mercy in part, I am also turning myself over to my wife’s. In the latter case, “mercy” is probably not the right word, but she will have to want to worship with me in the same way I desire to share worship and prayer with her.

If she makes the decision not to, or just never considers the possibility that we can share time in worship as a married couple, then I will remain a man adrift at sea without motive power or even a rudder by which to steer. I can hardly believe that God would allow this to continue perpetually, but I’ve been wrong before.

Should I be worried?

“The answer is that it all depends on one’s attitude. As our sages say, one who has sustenance for today yet worries about tomorrow is a person of little faith. For such a person, lacking food for the future is surely a terrible curse since he spends his time worrying. But for one who has faith, this is not a curse at all. Since he trusts in God he does not worry. Instead of being a curse, this situation will be a blessing since it forces him to turn his heart to God.” -Rav Yisrael Salanter

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. –Matthew 6:28-34

It’s easy to feel insignificant in God’s vast universe and to wonder how or even if God hears our prayers, but as Rav Salanter says, it all depends on one’s attitude and how we have prepared and nurtured faith and trust in our hearts.

That’s where I am right now. I’m looking down the road at a future, looking for a light in the darkness, turning my heart to God, and waiting for the dawn.

We are said to be studying Mussar when we delve into the descriptions of the human condition as they appear in the blueprint for the world, the Torah -Rabbi Ephraim Becker

The important thing is not to stop questioning. -Albert Einstein