Hear Oh IsraelPosted: August 6, 2012 | |
I am reading the chapter on Judaism in Huston Smith’s The World Religions. As I read about this tenacious, idealist, and compassionate people’s history and beliefs, I begin to cry. My heart is open and I remember my beginning days of sobriety, when I searched for personal meaning by attempting to convert to Judaism. I realize I still love the God of the Jews with all my heart.
Despite the fact that I studied with a Reform Rabbi for two years, I never converted to Judaism. I was looking for the mystical core of the teaching that I found in the ancient stories. My Rabbi couldn’t separate history from his lectures on religion. I realize now that he was right.
Eventually, I left Judaism and returned to Religious Science even though it meant rearranging my whole life to study with a New Thought teacher in NYC. I’ve never been sorry I studied Judaism and I’m certainly not sorry I studied New Thought.
There were several reasons why I never converted but none were based on religious objections. The Friday night services and the Rabbi’s lectures were not all that different from the ones I heard during my years as a Unitarian. I wanted a spiritual experience that I didn’t find there.
The Temple social life was based on family and I was a middle aged widow. Their social conventions were not mine. Although everyone was very nice, it was clear that I would never fit in.
More importantly, the Judaism I sought was not in that Temple. It was in my romantic imagination and in the books of writers such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, who once said he “wrote for ghosts” and social historians and philosophers such as Martin Buber.
During that period of my life, I read extensively – mostly about the religious fervor of the Middle European ecstatic tradition. I learned a lot about false messiahs, the Kabbalah, Zionism, the great Bal Shem Tov and other zaddicks.
I do not regret my studies of Judaism and I still believe in their early monotheism and moral teachings. The Jews are a great and amazing event in world history.
Whether I converted not, I feel more affinity for Judaism than any other spiritual teaching except New Thought. Most of my colleagues are more influenced by Christianity or Buddhism. If they think of Judaism, they are apt to think of it as an early beginning to our Judeo-Christian tradition. I have a heart connection to Judaism.
The Jews were the first of the existing religions to say that there was only One God. They were the first to extend ethical laws beyond their own tribe. They were the first to base their laws on a Universal God who created the world and found it good.
Huston Smith says the greatest accomplishment of the ancient Jews is their insistence on searching for meaning. That makes sense to me. It was the search for meaning that drew me to their religion five thousand years later.
Smith also says that their belief in the One God colored their whole religious philosophy. He says, “..the supreme achievement of Jewish thought – not in its monotheism as such, but in the character it ascribed the God it intuited as One. “ Then he goes on to describe that character. “God is a God of righteousness, whose loving kindness is from everlasting to everlasting and whose tender mercies are in all his works.”
Many people would say that the greatest accomplishment of the Jews is the fact that they were an obscure tribe of Middle Eastern nomads and they have survived for over 5000 years. While their beliefs have evolved and been extended, they have also been constant. They built their faith on monotheism – Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
I am now at the place where I find Truth embedded in all the major religions. I never say this one is better than that one. Every Sunday, we begin our services by lighting a candle in celebration of each of the world’s major religions. That said, the Jews share a lot of ideas that are also found in New Thought. Their description of God is pretty close to ours. They say God is a God of righteousness and mercy. We say God is a God of Law and Love.
Unlike many who come from a Christian tradition I never bought the simplistic idea that the Old Testament is “law” and the New Testament is “love”. I find plenty of love in laws that protect the widows and orphans of this world. Smith says there are 613 commandments regulating the social behavior of humans. Of course, they are based on the Ten Commandments and those are based on the belief that God is good and Life is good.
The goodness of all life is central to Judaism. Their beliefs are not based on denial of the physical body or detachment from life on this earthly plane. Nor do they deny the pleasures of the earth for delayed heaven. Their laws are intended to promote living together in harmony and goodness here and now.
Perhaps more than any other distinctly Western concept, the idea of progress is dearest to my heart. The Jews were the underdogs of history, Smith says. “Underdogs have only one direction to look, and it was the upward tilt of the Jewish imagination that eventually led the West to conclude that the conditions of life as a whole might improve.”
Yes – I am deeply moved by the ideas in this wisdom teaching. As I wiped away my tears, I realized that I attached myself to Judaism 37 years ago, immediately after my sobriety began, because I needed to believe in meaning and hope. I needed to believe that God is good, Life is good, conditions improve and there is always hope.
I needed that outlook of hope and progress in my personal life just the way the American slaves needed it in their bondage. The Afro-American spirituals tell the story. Whether it was, There’s a Great Day Coming! Or Go Down Moses – Let My People Go, they were deeply attached to Old Testament stories.
I am a Religious Science teacher now and I have incorporated the beliefs of many religious traditions into my life. I see the belief in One God, karma ( law of cause and effect), the possibility of redemption, God in nature and other tenets of the major faiths as New Thought ideas now. I believe life is good and my conviction that life has meaning is very strong.
I believe in progress and improving our loving connection to others. My life is committed to teaching that there is only One God and that God is Love. I teach that we are all connected to God and to each other. I teach it is possible to live together in peace, plenty and harmony.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King, I have a dream, and my dream is that we can all embrace those basic concepts of Allness, Goodness and Progress now.
Do I believe in the goodness of life?
Do I celebrate the wisdom of all religious traditions?