Who do you think would be more likely to buy a shirt with the phrase “God bless Israel” on it, a Jew, or a Christian?” If you answered “a Christian,” your gut instinct is correct. In my work as an artist creating religious designs for t-shirts, mugs, etc, I’ve confirmed what I always suspected to be true in the first place–Christians use God language a lot more than Jews, at least in English.
I’ve always been slightly jealous of religious Christians that describe such a close, personal, relationship with God. As Jews, we are taught that God is like a parent, like a best friend, like a spouse even. But we are less likely to teach our children on a daily basis that God loves them. Our prayers are full of descriptions about God’s love for us, and we are even commanded to love God in the Shema, so there is no theological reason for this. Christian colleagues of mine might say “I’m going to pray on it,” when making a decision, or describe their decision to become clergy as a “calling.”
In the past, I’ve posited that it’s because halacha has become the compass for so many religious Jews that we’ve diminished our focus on what God wants from us, or what pleases God. But even within Islam, a very law-focused religion, there are teachings about what makes God pleased. I have a Muslim employee who proofreads my Arabic designs for me. He told me his mother always suffers while fasting during Ramadan, but added, “One who suffers while fasting, Allah is pleased with this person.” We certainly have a similar idea that when we suffer for a mitzvah, our reward is greater, but we don’t often speak explicitly about what pleases God, so to speak.
Recently my husband (also a Times of Israel blogger), Rabbi Morey Schwartz was reviewing some of his learning with me (Shviit 10:8-9) and read a phrase to me I hadn’t heard before which is “רוח חכמים נוחה הימנו”, or “the sages are pleased with this person.” I was struck by the difference between the phrases “God is pleased” and “the sages are pleased.” Perhaps the phrase is used because the mitzvah in question is rabbinic in nature, and so the sages cannot claim to say that “God is pleased.” Or maybe it’s just because there is a strand through Jewish texts that avoids personal God language that dates back much earlier than I ever knew.
The next time we have a religious decision to make it is my hope that beyond asking “what is the halacha?”, we can also “pray on it” and ask ourselves “what does God want from me?” In this way, I believe we can round out our religious experience to more fully embrace the presence of God in our lives.
If you would like to purchase this design or others from my shop, visit me at https://www.etsy.com/shop/NightOwlLane