A Whole Congregation of Bad Jews
If I had a nickle for every time a Franklin County Jew told me they were a "bad Jew," I could pay for parking downtown for a year. I am deeply curious about what people mean when they say this. Perhaps there is some version in their mind of what a "good Jew" is (beard? bent over a book?) and in their minds they do not resemble this picture. Perhaps it is short hand for "Don't nudge me to come to services, rabbi! I don't understand services and I don't get much out of them." It breaks my heart to be a person people run from in the Stop and Shop. Don't run! I want you to come to TI for activities which you find meaningful and helpful to you, your family and community. Even when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, our sages say that it was not forced on us. We had free-will to accept or reject it. For some of us, the "shoulds" of Judaism, or any path, may be meaningful and compelling. For me, that is not the case. For me, there is value and help in our practices and that is why I follow them. We do not shut down our hearts and minds to come to Jewish practice. We use all our faculties; our hearts are our GPS, guiding us on the way.
Praying out of a prayerbook may not be a centering and elevating practice for all of us. But quieting our minds, feeling a sense of oneness and inner quiet, sincerely expressing a quiet hope...isn't this something we all need? Isn't this something we all do naturally when a sincere prayer is on the heart? Heal them Lord, Comfort them, Let them have ease.... These are organic prayers and they count, as real as anything you might say in Hebrew or Aramaic. For those of you who tell me in the Stop and Shop not to nudge you, I have noticed that your Aramaic is a little rusty!
Perhaps this self-assessment as Bad Jew comes from an awareness of all the mitzvot one is not practicing. Fair enough. I wonder if folks take in the many mitzvot they do practice. To take pleasure in one's good deeds is natural and helpful. Consider: We had a burial last month for a distant member and 16 of us came to the graveside to support the family of a stranger. Several active committees at the temple do important outreach and good deeds around environment, refugees, diversity, Israel and justice. We are a generous community. Gifts of time and money to the temple and to each other are an established part of the culture here. Our due diligence and care around the building to keep it safe and functional is a commandment in the torah, several, actually. There are commandments to care for our shared property and to create a safe environment here. Shoveling our walks is a mitzvah! When we speak to each other respectfully and listen carefully, at the board meetings and on committees, we are following a whole group of mitzvot which support personal and social well being. When we visit the sick and the bereaved, we are doing mitzvot. Don't be arrogant, but do let in the uplift that is a natural result of expressing this part of our nature. Doing mitzvot well feels good!
If something sincere, inside of you, wants you to do more, learn more and practice more, by all means, follow the urge. We offer classes and programs to support you in this. And I promise not to nudge you in the Stop and Shop!