My Shabbat message from this last most beautiful Shabbat which we were able to observe outside in the warm, sunshine. What a blessing! And perhaps ironic given the following context....
As an 8 yr.-old, my son Jared discovered Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief. He watched the film version based on Rick Riordan's best-selling novel of the same name. Jared found the notion of the Greek pantheon both fascinating and confusing. "Daddy, don't we only believe in one God." "That's true," I said. "But the ancient Greeks believed in many Gods." The conversation did not go much further until weeks later when my little monotheist told me he apologized to his one God for taking such a liking to the Greek pantheon, feeling the heat, I guess, of the 2nd commandment: "Thou shall not have other Gods before Me." Alas though it would seem to Jared that all was forgiven soon after as one morning he awoke to find the gift of snow and he thanked his one God for making it so he could test out his new mini luge sled. Ah to be so young and pure, complex but not too complicated. Open and curious about his connection to God, his doorways to holiness.
Jared's snowy portal reminds me of similar story my teacher Lawrence Kushner tells in Honey from the Rock about his daughter, Noa, my rabbinic classmate and friend.
I visited my daughter's first grade class. There was a teacher and her assistant and myself. And eighteen souls who have been present but for six winters. The air hung with a November chill. The children were work/playing in four or five groups, when the mist outside turned imperceptibly into snowflakes. "Look! It's snowing outside!" one shouted. "Winter is here!" And the groups crumbled as their members ran to the windows. No need for daily prayer here. OR for the proper blessing on seeing nature's wonders for the first time. Not for them! But for me! "Barukh Ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh Ha-olam, Oseh Ma'aseh Bereshit: Praised are You, O Holy Wonderful God, Master of the Universe, who makes things like this." "Quick, Daddy! Help me on with my coat. We're going outside!" And I stood at the window watching the snow fall on my little girl. There are places children go that grown-ups can only observe from afar.
The story reflects just how simply the sha'arei shamayim, the gates to the Holy One, often just swing right open for sweet, enthusiastic little people whose trust and faith are pure. But these gates to the sacred are not solely the domain of young, innocent, curious happy children. Spirituality and soulfulness belong to us too. But it takes choices. The choice to utter a blessing to capture the sacred moment. The choice to set aside Shabbat. The time that gives us a break from creating so that we can connect, with one another and with One who created us. So that we can learn and reflect. Prayer, Shabbat, and study all give us time to think about God and how God might fit into our lives.
In the Shema, we may be commanded to love God with a whole heart, mind, body, and soul. But we are not commanded to believe in God. That is by the way, why the first of the ten commandments that we read in Parashat Yitro is not a commandment at all. It's more a declaration of faith, or perhaps an invitation to faith. We are inspired, if not commanded by God to love God and neighbor, to feed the hungry, or to pursue peace. Logically, faith flows out of action and responsibility. But there is no command that one must believe. Faith ultimately is act of will and freedom. We choose to feel commanded or not. Thus, if some of us feel commanded by God, then the mitzvot are probably commanding. If others among us don't feel commanded by God, then mitzvot, I imagine, serve more as strategies for doing the right thing, for being a force for good. And surely there are other understandings regarding faith.
But the question that continues to call me throughout my life as a rabbi is there some value, should we not feel commanded by God, to finding a relationship with God anyway? I watch the beauty of my son's interaction with God and my faith is reaffirmed. I witness Rabbi Kushner's and Noa's response to the sacred as a blessing. For me, my choice to believe seems right. There is joy in faith. There is a zest for life. But I cannot answer for you and your choices. What I can do is help you piece together a personally meaningful understanding of God, or engage whatever doubts you may possess. There's nothing quite like a good old-fashioned wrestling match with faith and the reality of God. Either way we will find richness of spirit and soul. Come let's talk, or better yet, lets have a class - I'll be in touch.