I have been meditating a lot lately on forgiveness, repentance and redemption and how my views on these have changed forever since I started my path home to Judaism. I have found that my spiritual heuristics developed since childhood to help my soul come to grips and solve these issues as they arose in my life were deeply flawed in the context of what I was supposed to take with me.
When I was a practicing Christian I was always uncomfortable with the concept of grace redeeming us. I felt there was not enough responsibility placed on us to control our sin. How could I expect G-d to forgive my actions if I had not even repented from my behavior. To me the assumption of having been forgiven by the simple fact that I believed Jesus died for me made little sense. What incentive was there to improve behavior and not hurt others? was it truly enough to ask G-d's forgiveness for having hurt somebody? or to ask a priest to assign penance? what was the rest of Jesus' life meaning to a Christian? what did his example mean?
So the rest of my thoughts will center around who I am now and who I was born to be and my Jewish perspective though I might sprinkle in comparisons to my past beliefs. So Revision 2 will frame the rest of my life and how it takes shape.
The Jewish path to redemption
I wish all mankind could march through the Jewish process of arriving at Yom Kipur. Its my sincere belief that this process is the closest we can get to a real and profound feeling of redemption. The first step begins with the month of Elul where we prepare for the arrival of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur when we will face judgement for our behavior over the whole of the past year.
Elu bears witness to our higher focus on performing mitzvah and and our work to reconcile with those we may have hurt or offended and ask their forgiveness. Talk about a REAL incentive for true life changes! just to go through this humbling and sometimes very embarrassing process makes you not want to have to do this ever again. The most important thing to keep in mind is the main concept of forgiveness ...."G-d can only forgive you for acts committed against him, he cant forgive you for acts you have committed to others". So if you wish to arrive at the gate of the 10 days of awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur prepared for a deeply meaningful and transcendental process I find it crucial to come with the blessing of those you afflicted the previous year. This way you can fully dedicate this time for making amends for all the ways you have failed before G-d.
As we ask G-d in the Amidah daily for knowledge to know when we do wrong we should be well aware of what we need to repent. By spending 10 days in full concentration on all the things we have done before G-d we can hope the avoidance of these things get cemented into our being and year after year we build a more holy container for our soul. It is my opinion that ONLY through this process of humble repentance can we hope to dare ask G-d for redemption. How can we hope to just ask G-d for cheap forgiveness even if his unlimited love would grant this? do we not have a responsibility to make meaningful life changes and take responsibility for our future behavior?
It is important to view our G-d from two completely different angles. G-d as a parent has at least two discreet and different sides: the strict "gevurah" and the compassionate one "chesed". We MUST keep this in mind in our daily lives. It is NOT good enough for us to just trust in his compassion, this is a very childish and irresponsible attitude to take with our faults. We MUST demonstrate we care enough to respect our G-d and to demonstrate this by working with all our might at being better!
We are deeply flawed in most ways and all we can ever aspire to is to be a better person year after year and continue to work at shortening the list of things we have to ask forgiveness for. Adonai please hear my prayer!
Friday, April 22, 2011
Almost three years ago I came upon the clear realization I was born to be a Jew. I had been aware of this at some level my whole life and yet it took a trip to Jerusalem to open that door to my soul and let the ME in me stretch my legs and move out into the light and a whole new wonderful life.
So I waited a year and a half in order to make sure I was not just overreacting to Jerusalem (a real issue for many people) and THEN contacted a Reform Synagogue and started the formal conversion process to Judaism.
So a little background is in order here......My entire life has been one of me trying to figure out who I am in my relationship with Hashem. I have always been very spiritual and pious. My travels through Christianity, Buddism and even Sufism were wonderful and shaped me into who I am today but these paths never quite fit. I always felt that they did not hold the answer to who I was.
Fast forward back to the right now and my current interesting predicament......
I am home!..........................yet..............I'm not. and I probably never will be completely home unless I were to live in Israel (which I have no intention of doing). It seems that not only was I born to be a Jew but not just any Jew but and Israeli one at that. I have now not only become a Jew in Diaspora but a Jew in a diaspora within Judaism!! that is to say it was not good enough for me to join a people that are in essence living outside their homeland and outside of the worlds community in many ways but my path also left me standing alone outside of Judaism itself!
How did I manage such a feat?
1) I have a very strong belief in social justice for human beings including...GASP! Women and Homosexuals! that statement right there puts me at odds with most branches of 'accepted' Judaism except for Reform Judaism.
2) I have very strong devotion to Hashem and what he asks of me. As such I try to live up to his commandments and try to live a life of performing Mitzvot in as many forms as possible. Two very important Mitzvah that I keep are:
Wearing a Tallit Katan under my clothes during my waking hours which is commanded in Numbers 15:38 and Deuteronomy 22:12
Keeping my head covered whenever possible with a cap or a Kipah (Jewish custom possibly from the priests who covered their heads as a sign of respect to God).
RIGHT THERE, the problem! Reform Jews for the most part not only do not wear Tzittzit or head coverings daily but I am now finding out that actually some don't seem to care much for those who do regardless of how open minded they may claim to be! After services I find myself constantly trying to strike up conversations with fellow Jews only to find they really don't seem to want to talk to me which is something very new to me as I am the type of person that people normally enjoy conversations with. As a matter of fact I also attend a Methodist church on Sundays with my beautiful wife who is still Christian and people there treat me like one of the family even knowing I'm a Jew with weird little strings hanging from my clothes!
I find it very interesting that the main mandate (such as I understand it) of Reform Judaism is the belief in individual choice in "Jewishness" yet in practice for some it seems to mean you are free to be the kind of Jew you want to be as long as you are like them (human nature)! Please don't feel that I believe all reform Jews think this way because they dont and especially not the Rabbi's I have met but there is a real and palpable feeling that I somehow am not hugely welcome in the Reform tent and I have been invited several times to "you should go checkout the Conservative Synagogue down the road". Why dont I?
For one the synagogue is basically without a Rabbi till July 2011 and second Conservative Judaism as an institution still descriminates against homosexuals even though some loopholes have been provided by the CJLS in the USA.
So I find myself too conservative for Reform Judaism and too liberal in thought for Conservative and Orthodox Judaism...I CANT wait for my personal little Exodus of the spot I am in but meanwhile I hope to keep this journal of my days in the wilderness and i hope you will check in on occasion!