I live in a town in the Bible Belt where there are very few Jews. Which might explain my behavior upon meeting a Jew from New York who came to an event in my town hosted for her charitable organization. I admit that I assumed since she was Jewish that she would want to talk about G-d. Therefore, I commenced to “talk her ear off.”
I started talking Torah and couldn’t stop. Jumping in with both feet first, I talked about the relevance of and need for the Temple today. I then changed course and talked about the simple but profound truth I’d learned that everything that happens to us is via HaShem’s kindness. Adding to my Torah smorgasbord, I bounced to the topic of learning to have the will to receive in order to bring HaShem pleasure and to benefit others.
My voice quickly faded though, when I saw the strange look on her face as she started shaking her head. Great! I had become what I dislike – a person who doesn’t know when to stop talking.
Embarrassed, I said, “I am so sorry for getting carried away and talking so much.”
She brushed off my apology and bluntly stated, “My husband needs to meet someone like you. He’s an orthodox Jewish non-believer.”
I gave her a strange look and laughed. “Exactly!” she said, “How can such a thing exist? He grew up learning Judaism, but now it doesn’t mean much to him. He needs to see someone like you who . . . ” She paused searching for the right words.
So I finished her sentence by saying, “He needs to meet someone the Torah is new to and who can’t get enough of it?”
“Yes,” she said. “Someone just like that.”
Since this encounter, I’ve wondered how many Jews are “orthodox non-believers.” How many Jews observe the commandments of G-d without connecting to Him in their observance? How many have lost the joy and wonder of getting to be in a relationship with the Creator of the universe, or how many never had joy and wonder to begin with?
The prophets of Israel continuously reminded the Jews that HaShem wanted their service to Him to come from their hearts. And I hope as a non-Jew I can remind Jews that if Torah can ignite a spark in me and connect me to HaShem, imagine the fire it can ignite in them, the ultimate carriers of the Light of Torah, and the kind of connection with HaShem that can ensue.
In the states, a baby’s car seat is required by law to be rear facing until the baby reaches a certain weight or age. I have two children. And both times, when I turned their car seats around, they had the same reaction when I started driving. Their mouths opened as wide as their eyes did and they said, “Ooohhhh!” as they looked at everything around them from a new vantage point.
I’m still a “Torah tot” barely scratching the surface of Torah learning. But the little that I’ve learned of Torah has been like having my car seat turned around.
Growing up in the Bible Belt, I was taught about G-d. Keeping with the children’s theme, though, my knowledge of G-d was like the Sesame Street book, The Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum. How can a museum hold everything in the world? Obviously it can’t, hence the sign over the exit of the museum reading: Everything Else in the Whole Wide World. Torah has been that doorway for me.
A funny thing happens once a person walks through the doorway of Torah, though. He realizes that HaShem is the whole wide world. HaShem = existence. That truth kind of turns the tables, huh? It cracks one’s hip, 21st century, arrogant façade. It dissolves one’s self-importance. It is humbling, to say the least, to be reminded that He lets mankind exist in Him. What an amazing concept, not to mention privilege.
The Psalmist implored HaShem to open his eyes to the “wonders of the Torah.” I pray that same thing for religious Jews who are somnambulating through their observance rather than connecting with HaShem. Those whose observance feels mundane, rote. Who have forgotten the reason they perform a mitzvah, who have forgotten their acts actually usher G-d into this world. I pray that those kinds of Jews will be drenched with the reality of the Shema, that they will be consumed with the wonder that they exist in HaShem, the One and only. And that they will have a love connection with Him, with their entire being — heart, soul, and might.
I pray that as Jews they will be reminded why they were chosen: To be co-creators with the Creator, transforming the world. To be light-bearers of the Light. To be His beloved. To be His ambassadors in a world desperate to be reminded that there is indeed a G-d in this world.
Whether Jew or non-Jew, we were created to connect to the Creator. And if I, a somewhat naïve non-Jew, can remind someone of anything, I hope it is that every moment of our lives is a calling-card from HaShem, beckoning us to connect to Him.