I heard an interesting concept recently where Jews were referred to as “G-d Wrestlers”. Those that wrestle with G-d. We struggle, we question, we doubt, we lose faith, we come back, we return, we read and read, we analyze and read some more. In last week’s Torah portion we see Jacob wrestle with an “angel” all night until he triumphs. He asks for a blessing. He wins and from that day forward is known by his new name Israel. Life is a struggle, it’s a part of the equation.
In class, we have been intensely studying G-d, believe it or not. Jewish tradition and modern thinking in a theological sense. It’s been pretty intense for me and last night really got to me. I have been nervous and shy since this topic arose in class. It is quite surprising for me to get shy and nervous in a Jewish class but our relationships with G-d is VERY personal. I have been very comfortable with my faith in G-d but up until now, it’s been MINE. My opinion, my thoughts, my moments and prayers. Suddenly, without thinking about it, I am sitting with a group of adults, all reading the same book, openly expressing our thoughts, our feelings, and even going one on one with each other for discussion. Since being back in Los Angeles, I have yearned for community. I have been searching for a connection with other Jews and the feeling that I belong somewhere. Here I am, finally getting to know people and being given the opportunity to share my spiritual body with others and I am FRIGHTENED. This is the most unexpected emotion I’ve experienced lately. I approached this class with so much excitement, thrilled to join a group and learn with them. What I hadn’t thought about is that I would be faced with many, many different perspectives and opinions about Faith, G-d, and Judaism altogether! Suddenly, my opinions aren’t so precise and solid are they? Enter fear. Enter embarrassment. Enter doubt.
Again, completely unexpected.
So last night I found myself holding back tears nearly the entire time. I walked into class, already nervous because I hadn’t read the chapter. I really make it a point to complete assignments but had quite an overwhelming week and I slipped. I was also late, which I don’t like to do either. Good start! We immediately get asked to pair up. Chevruta is a Jewish concept of learning in pairs. (http://www.myjewishlearning.com/practices/Ritual/Torah_Study/How_to_Study_Torah/Havruta_Learning_in_Pairs_.shtml) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chavrusa) I learned a lot about Chevruta once at a Shabbat table, the Rabbi was talking about it and I thought it was great. I remember saying to the Rebbetzin, “I want a learning partner!” Now, again, I am given the opportunity to experience something I’ve wanted to do and I feel hesitant. I don’t want to. I’m scared. The thing is that it seems my faith is pretty simple. So I guess I’ve been feeling like it might be stupid to others. Only because I feel surrounded by people who question faith a lot. Many people have a hard time digesting the idea that you can have a conversation with G-d when I feel that I do it everyday! I’ve been paired up twice now with people that “don’t like to talk about G-d”. Okay. So then maybe I won’t tell you how cheezy my sentiments about G-d are. How I DO believe he is everywhere. That I have no problem saying “He” or Hashem – and that I am feminist, by definition, but am not offended by this. That I DO believe he answers prayers. Oy.
During the Rabbi’s lecture later, he is clearly coming up with ways for others to comprehend their own relationship. Help them by showing them different perspectives with hopes that one might click for them. Offering us different avenues we can choose to explore and eventually find peace. For example (in talking about prayer) “maybe it’s an enlightenment within yourself”, he said, which, to me, IS G-d! When we connect with ourselves or with each other in prayer, at home or in shul, that is G-d. Why is it an issue to assume G-d’s existence in B’reishit or in general? I guess I didn’t understand in the moment, that the Rabbi was not negating my thoughts, just giving everyone options, so-to-speak. It was just overwhelming. Honestly, I’m not sure entirely why yet. I am slowly coming to understand the emotions I’ve been feeling the past few weeks in this environment. Truthfully, I am not an academic. I do not have a lot of formal education. Perhaps I just need to get used to the class environment and the Teacher/Student relationship (even, perhaps, the class and “fellow classmates relationship”).
At the end of the lecture, Rabbi shares an incredible moment in his life during a rabbinical interview where he is asked to comfort a mother after the loss of a child (hypothetically). While listening to him speak about his answer and what he came up with, I could feel the tears starting to well up. Not only because of how beautiful his answer was, but the thought of a rabbi’s position in general. What it must be like to be him and be a part of such difficult situations on a regular basis just blew me away. He finished speaking, I packed up quickly and BOLTED out of that room. I reached the fresh air and let it out. Bawling. I walked quickly to my car and cried some more.
Oddly enough, I felt G-d with me even then.
Because I happened to park in front of the Chazzan’s car. She looked into my car and saw me crying and frantically writing. (I thought if I write down the feelings in the moment, I could try and figure it out later). She opened my car door, gave me a hug, and talked me through it. Talked me through enough so that I was calm and breathing. She had a big smile on her face the whole time. Her beautiful smile was so inspiring because I knew by her reaction that there was nothing wrong. Her smile told me that what I was feeling was okay. Her smile also told me that she loved me and supported me. Having her in my life, having the Rabbi, the class, all of the students, my thoughts, my feelings are ALL blessings for me. And that, my friends, is G-d.