As we focus on the Yomim Noraim, the days of fear and awe (Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year and, ten days later, Day of Atonement), there’s value in exploring whether we actually buy into the whole package. Is God real? Even if we grant the possibility of ourselves not occupying the highest rung of existence, is there any validity to Judaism? Torah? Israel (either/both as a nation and/or a people)? Is there any reason at all, beyond nostalgia, to sit for hours in synagogue? To fast a week later?
While we dedicate this month, Elul, to introspection, perhaps we should include our beliefs in this inspection.
The Netivot Shalom (Slonimer Rebbe) writes about Emunah, belief. He distinguishes between intellectual belief, אמונת במח, Emunat b’Moach (belief in the brain), and emotional belief, אמונת בלב, Emunat b’Lev (belief in the heart), placing strongly felt belief much higher than mere conceptual belief. But he also talks about an even deeper level, אמונת באברים, Emunat b’Avarim (belief in the limbs) belief that infuses every aspect of one’s entire being.
When our Judaism remains shallow–an ethnic identity or “multi-cultural” choice, a sentimental evocation of earlier, supposedly simpler or purer times–when it’s expressed by eating a bagel, spicing our language with a word or two of Yiddish or even by strict halachic observance, and/or wearing antiquated clothes and pretending it’s the shtetl or by mere allegiance to the country (if one is fortunate to live in Israel) we happen to live in, it will be easily derailed. Anything that comes down the pike which also satisfies longing and emptiness can mount at the very least a very serious challenge to our faith.
But when you are your belief, when your Judaism is more than a set of clothes to don when pleasing, when Torah and Yisrael are integrated with your very life-force, your true being, participation no longer feels optional. Our connection with the Land of Israel is no longer a political preference or a result of the Holocaust, but is a natural part of the universe, as invariable and inevitable as the laws of physics.
At that point we no longer apologize for our lives. We don’t ask permission to observe our holidays and to eat our special food. Rather, we proudly fill our land and don’t even begin to entertain the folly of granting anyone else sovereignty to the smallest portion of Eretz Yisrael. At this point we can finally begin to work on our destiny of bringing this world to perfection.
Kativa v’Chatima Tova
I think this is why the Shema begins starts by saying you should love G-d bechal levavicha ubechal meodecha.It is not enough to just beleve in your heart but you must do something concrete. I think that is the purpose of ritual. It is also my experience that doing the ritual leads more spirituality (though I must admit certain rituals do nothing for me-Selichicot being one).
Our Hillel education continues to inform both of us. Both in what we learned and in our lifelong friendship.
I’m also not much for getting up extra early…..
By the way, the deeper reason of why there’s always food at simchot is to ingest and integrate the kedusha, making it physical as well.