Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Jew... and His Wife

I don't know Elad Nehorai, the man behind the Pop Chassid blog. But in a recent post, Nehorai writes about how ba'alei teshuva are uniquely positioned to point out inconsistencies in the Orthodox world. Since we ba'alei teshuva come to Judaism with fresh eyes, having rejected much of the pull of the surrounding secular culture, we are already trained to notice what Nehorai calls "mistakes". He asserts that it's our job, not just to notice them, but to "rebel", that is, to point out where the traditional Jewish world has gone awry.

His post reminded  me of something that has long distempered me. I have see it so often over the past 25 years, and yet, each time I see it, it still makes my systolic blood pressure rise 20 points. It makes my eyes bleed. It makes me want to scream.

ITEM: He Who blessed our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - may He bless this entire holy congregation along with all the holy congregations; them, their wives, sons and daughters and all that is theirs... [Mi Shebayrach following Yekum Purkan]

ITEM: For this betrayal, the Jewish People were punished by being condemned to wander in the desert for forty years, until they would all die, and only their children would enter the Holy Land. [Actually, only the men of that generation, save Yehoshua and Calev, died as a punishment for the Sin of the Spies. The women of that generation did not die in the desert.]

ITEM: When I was learning about Simchat Torah for the first time, I read in a book of Jewish customs that every Jew dances with the Sefer Torah on Simchat Torah. I was so naive at the time. I thought that meant that every Jew dances with the Sefer Torah.

ITEM: In a siddur, the words of prayer are grammatically correct only if the person praying is male.

ITEM: Ishto k'gufo - "His wife is like his body."

ITEM: "All men are Jews, though few men know it." — Bernard Malamud

ITEM: Ish Ubeito by Eliyahu Kitov. Translated as The Jew and His Home: A Guide to Jewish Family Life.

These are seven exceedingly random examples. I could have listed a hundred and seven. Or a thousand and seven. Or ten thousand and seven. All examples of the Jewish world's maddening tendency to say Jew when what is really meant is Jewish man.

Sometimes, it is necessary to refer to Jewish men separately from Jewish women. I have no issue with that. However, having been made aware of this maddening tendency, I'll thank you from refraining from co-opting the words Jew, all Jews, the Jewish people, etc. when what you actually mean is:

this...

or this...

or this...

or even this.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Spiritual Hunger

 
If we would feel spiritual hunger the way we feel physical hunger, 
we would solve the whole problem of life.
 Getting to Know Your Self: The Gateway to Recognizing Your Inner Strengths
by the author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

I've been thinking about spiritual hunger quite often lately. Is it a residue of my visit to Uman where I spent an intense week doing not much more than praying, learning Torah, crying and trying to connect with God, coupled with just enough eating and sleeping to sustain my body? Or is it a function of living in Israel, where the spiritual aspect of life is just so loud?

No matter. Here I am, thinking about how to notch up the percentage of my day in spent in God consciousness. According to a lesson I received from the brilliant and remarkably personable Jerusalem-based teacher Yehudis Golshevsky, in Chassidut, there are only two mindsets. A person is either attached to kedusha (holiness) or to shtuyot (nonsense). There is no neutral space in Chassidut. I was very struck by that lesson, even as I continue to argue against it in my mind. Surely some things in life are pareve - neither advancing our relationship with the Divine nor detracting from it.

I certainly came to Israel in order to grow closer to God. Yet, sometimes, the daily challenges of living here distract me from that goal. Getting from place to place on public transportation instead of hopping in my car. Earning enough shekels to sustain ourselves. The frustration of not being able to communicate easily with the health care system, the store clerk, the government. Trying to acculturate while feeling very much like an immigrant. Trying to balance the ridiculous and the sublime aspects of living in the Holy Land. These are the quintessential conundrums of religious olim. And they are mine as well.

I had a dream recently that I met with a therapist and I told him that all my troubles, whatever I feel I lack, are spiritual in nature. I know this is true. After nearly 3 ½  years in Israel, it's time to get serious about the next chapter of my spiritual story.

Years ago, I lived alone in an apartment in a not very Jewish area of Baltimore. Often, I would drive down a certain street on my way home. One day, I noticed an office building off to my left with a sign identifying it as belonging to a utility company. Now I knew that building did not just go up overnight. It had been there the whole time. I had just failed to notice.

And that's something like what I feel now. The depths of Torah have been here the whole time. I just wasn't paying enough attention. Too wrapped up in daily challenges, or shtuyot, or whatever.

For me, my success in adjusting to life in Israel can be measured by how heightened my spiritual hunger is.

When I was new to Jewish life, new to Jewish practice, I was busy twirling a lot of new plates. There was so much to learn. When I moved to Israel, that became true again. But at a certain point, then, as now, I'd mastered just enough to move to the next phase of growth.

So now, I'm in the process of cracking something open. I'm exceedingly drawn to spiritual people. Something inside me races with excitement when I hear someone else speaking about God like a genuine Presence. I'm learning more spiritual material. I'm feeling the press of needing to talk to God more often and in greater detail. I'm attending more shiurim (Torah classes) and appreciating more fully how deep, how penetrating, the Torah actually is. Learning Torah like this shines a light on, and opens up for me, awareness of some of the multiple levels of reality on which the world, and God, truly operate. I have too often been oblivious.

This intensified hunger for the metaphysical is elusive and difficult to describe. I'm not sure I've adequately captured it here. I generally know when I'm in the territory of God consciousness. And often, I know when I'm not.

You'll have to excuse me now.

I have to go talk to God.