There is a niggling concern I’ve got about G-d. It’s been rattling around in my mind and making a noise similar to that of a wobbly ceiling fan; I’ve ignored it for a while but just can’t shake the feeling that it will, like precarious ceiling fixtures are known to; come propelling down, probably right as the in-laws sit down for dinner.
I am not wondering if He exists, or even wondering why He does what He does (ok- I DO WONDER!)
It is not so much about G-d, as it is about US.
I think we may be unwittingly somewhat disconnected from G-d.
Let’s say that life is a musical production. (How awesome would THAT be?!) Every cast member is ready. The entire script has been memorized. Every musical number; perfected. Each dance; brilliantly choreographed and fine-tuned. Exquisite costumes, gorgeous sets. The lighting is state of the art, and we’ve even thoughtfully planned and prepared delicious, thematic, and well-presented refreshments.
PLACES, EVERYONE! We are ready to go. No detail has been overlooked. Except One.
We seem to have forgotten to send Hashem a ticket.
How can this be? We were the first Monotheists, sheesh. Of course we’re all about G-d! But be honest; you pass that sign that says “G-d loves you” and you assume it’s a church.
I’ve spoken to non-observant Jews who are in 12 step programs and they often express frustration that Judaism doesn’t seem to support their very strong and flourishing relationships with G-d. They find themselves feeling alienated from Judaism, yet close to G-d.
But us observant folks? “We got this.”
Personally, I can’t shake the sense that we are not as tight with Hashem as we could be, the ubiquitous use of “Baruch Hashem” as a response to inquiries of how we’re doing, notwithstanding. I’m not saying that there are no spiritual, G-d loving people in the mainstream frum community. I had a roommate in my single days who spoke about H” as if he were her best friend, and it was uplifting just to be around her, but that is not typical. I think we can acknowledge a tendency to function from more of an intellectual sphere than a spiritual one-and it may be affecting us more than we are aware of…
A few years back we had a group of young Israelis, who were working at those mall kiosks, over for Shabbat dinner. None came in kippahs and none kept Shabbat. I was completely taken aback to see this group of 20’something-seemingly secular guys completely light up my house up with ruach. They spent the entire meal sharing D’vrei Torah and making the most “hakadosh Barchu”-laden l’chaim’s I’ve ever heard. They were so expressive and one could feel the deep closeness and rich love they felt for Hashem. His name rolled off their tongues with ease and warmth.
The next day in shul when my friends asked me how our dinner was I could not contain my snarky retort:”We had over a bunch of guys that we tend to refer to as ‘chilonim;’ but I am afraid that compared to them, we all look like agnostics.”
I know I sound envious. I think we should all be. (We’re allowed to covet someone’s Torah knowledge so I’m going with it.) They had an authentic and sincere way of relating to Hashem, as though He was their fun-loving, super hug-able and generous Saba.
I am sure many of you have had more than one Israeli cab driver who you could swear was one of the lamed-hey’s! AMIRITE?
Perhaps the most powerful illustration of this for me was a few years back, when I was tasked with creating the mission statement for our city’s new “almost-Bais Yaacov” high school. Looking to plagiarize some good material, I visited websites of a bunch of BY/BY-lite high schools, figuring I’d gather some good “bones” for the basic structure, and doctor it up with my mushy Seattle-friendly flavor.
I found 8 websites for a variety of high schools, both “in” and “out” of town. As I read through the missions statements or “About Us” pages, I truly wished I could join my daughter in receiving this brand of education. They cited lofty and valuable goals like “inspiring girls to excellence in personal growth, middos and Torah Values” or “encouraging them to become active members of their communities.” “Seeking excellence in Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol” “Loving Torah and Eretz Yisrael.”
But after the first three, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen anything like “developing a relationship with Hashem” on any of them.
Actually, none had mentioned G-d. At all.
I combed through more sites. One listed “committed to traditional Jewish Values.” MMnnnhhhh… I could imagine that those may include a relationship with Hashem. Others had “spiritual” among lists of several types of goals.
But I still would have liked to see an actual mention of G-d.
It was very late and I promised myself that once I found ONE school with what we needed, I would go to sleep, and fine-tune it the next day.
BINGO! School #8 mentioned G-d FOUR times on the home page and four more times in the mission statement.
Talk about “Thank G-d!” I finally went to sleep.
Look, I wasn’t trying to be nitpicky. All of the goals listed on the various sites were terrific. All were things I looked for in schools. I just think that when Hashem doesn’t feature at the top of the list for goals and values in our children’s education; some real-world editing is needed.
Now, there was one word that was present on each and every site, either in the mission statement itself, or in the “about us” paragraphs.
That word was Torah.
Terrific! I love Torah. I want Torah. Torah SHOULD BE on every list.
But…. SO SHOULD “HASHEM.”
I was curious. What was the deal? How could I make sense of the common practice of using the word “Torah,” and the lack of any direct mention of “G-d.”
And then it hit me!
Often, great Rabbis are often referred to as the name of the most preeminent book!
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, A.K.A.” the Chofetz Chaim.”
Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, A.K.A. “the Chazon Ish.”
Hashem, A.K.A. ‘the Torah!”
I certainly have been taught that Torah is Hashem’s love letter, His guide book, His communication to us. It is precious. We learn how to think, respond to challenges, behave, love and grow from the sacred lessons He shares with us in Torah. One might say it is synonymous with Him.
I want to spell it out here, in big bold letters.
“Torah” cannot be used to substitute “Hashem.”
Torah is not a substitute for Hashem.
Torah study, even coupled with structured prayer, is not enough to foster a personal and animated relationship with G-d. The kind of relationship we long for must be woven into the fabric of education.
I want children to know and to authentically, in their kishkas, understand that Hashem is with them, to know they will find the guidance they need and the comfort they seek, by reaching out to Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu.
Honestly, I cannot imagine how I could possibly ask (let alone EXPECT) my children to be observant without setting them up to have a genuine relationship with Hashem that feeds them emotionally, spiritually and psychologically.
If we have any chance of Hashem’s name being the first thing on their lips, we need to make “A Close Relationship with Hashem” the very first thing on these lists.
I didn’t mean to pick on girls’ high schools. That was simply what I was dealing with at the time, and my research on those websites crystallized the issue for me. By no means is it isolated to them! I imagine that if we check out websites or brochures etc., of seminaries, day schools, yeshivas, shuls and other religious institutions, we would likely find more of the same.
Now I’d like to make a pitch. No need to worry, I don’t see any partially uncooked herb infused chicken breasts in front of you, so, have no fear. I’m not asking for money!
Many of you are familiar with the Bechdel Test for films: in order to pass, a movie must contain a scene in which two or more named female characters have a dialogue about anything at all besides men.
Along those lines, let’s create a different kind of benchmark we will call “The Hashem Test.” To pass it, schools, (or other institutions) need to include some mention of G-d, as in “developing a relationship with” not “with gratitude to” – in either their mission statement or philosophy/about us blurb.
Please do a little research; check out the websites, brochures, etc. of the Jewish schools you are involved with, and put them to the “Hashem Test.” If they don’t pass, and you agree that they should, then let them know. If they pass, make someone’s day and let them know how happy it made you to find that was the case!
I genuinely believe that for the majority who don’t, it’s likely an oversight. Yes, an oversight that is indicative of a greater issue within our communities, but one that they would want to rectify. Let’s hope so! Let’s encourage that change and be part of the change we want to see!
Please share the results! You can do so in the comments section or email me directly at TechiyaLevine@gmail.com