A Reminder At The Beginning Of A New School Year

Studying religion academically can sometimes be challenging as a person that identifies religiously. I have seen it cause people to loss their faith or cause severe frustration. You spend so much time reading religious text asking questions of historical context, literary structure and other scholarly inquires that it is easy to loss sight of where you, G-d and your community fit into the picture. It is too easy to get caught up in study guide and exam questions and stop asking how the text is speaking to you and what connection you have to the text.

As I begin a new program where I will be asked to read Jewish text from a critical, academic perspective,  I want to remind myself that I can learn something deeper and spiritual from all of these text and that should be just as much of a priority. A quote I have adapted from a friend is what I repeat when I begin to loss sight of this:

“Dear Elisheva,

Stop reading Buber* to just learn about Buber. Read Buber* to learn about G-d, yourself and the world we live in.

Sincerely,

Elisheva”

*Martin Buber is a 20th century Jewish Theologian. You can substitute his name in the quote for any religious thinker or text and it still rings true. This is the perspective I want to strive for as I begin this new school year and the New Year.

Inspiration can be found anywhere, but what a shame to ignore it in texts that traditionally and fiercely address these topics just because they are assigned readings. That would truly be a disservice to my spiritual self.

Living For Myself, But Not Living Selfishly

Converting to Judaism is the most selfish thing I have ever done. Moving to Israel is a pretty close second. I struggle with the guilt I feel over my selfish decisions most days. I make decisions based on pleasing people more often than I should, but the few decision I have made in my life that have been for myself have all been major life decisions that have effected those around me, most importantly my family.

One of the hardest things I have ever done was telling my parents that I wanted to convert to Judaism. My sister and brother-in-law already knew. My best friend already knew. A few other friends and cousins knew. The only people left to tell, whose response I cared about, were my parents. To be honest, telling them was much more than one conversation. It was a series of conversations over a few years. They knew I was interested in Judaism, Jews, Hebrew and Israel, but they never wanted to believe that it was more than a passing fascination. My parents saw my passion as nothing more than a naïve child mystified by what was in front of her. This is the way they view most of my undertakings. To be fair, it is true that the things I am most passionate about were inspired by my natural curiosity and excitement to encounter and take hold of what intrigued and baffled me. At the same time, there is a difference between wanting to sky dive or even ride a roller coaster, both of which are things I would never have the guts to do, and making major life decisions. I am not haphazard or reckless by nature. Instead, my decisions are made with deliberation, struggle and care, which almost makes it worse because then I am selfish.

I don’t make decisions on a whim without thinking of the consequences to myself or those around me. I carefully think out the implications and aftermath of my decisions, which makes deciding what to eat for dinner a hassle. With large decisions, I know that others will be affected. I know that often I am hurting someone, and yet, I do it. I decide that my wants are greater than someone else’s wants. I make a selfish decision knowing that I am being selfish. I struggle with this. I love the decisions I have made, but I hate the way it has affected other. I often fantasize about how I would live my life if I lived in a protective bubble. Not a bubble that protected me from my decisions, but a way that my family was protected from feeling any impact from my decisions. How differently would I live?

My sister and brother-in-law, my bearers of sanity, talk me back to reality. They remind me that it is okay to make decisions based on what I want. I might sound silly, but it is something I need to be told. It just doesn’t seem right in a Mexican family. Family comes first- always. With the change of times, this is also changing. My generation is really the first to step outside of this box. Family is still of utmost importance, but we learn to redefine what family means and what providing for the family means. It is in my generation that children are beginning to educate themselves and move outside of the 30 mile radius that is the hub of our extended family. As this shift takes place, the generations before us, my parents, their siblings and aunts and uncles, struggle with the shifting priorities. It feels like a true loss of the family unit. I mourn this loss a bit stronger than some of my cousins. I feel myself letting down not only my parents and the generations before them but also the generations to come that will have very different assumptions and experiences of familyhood than I did.

I have created a Hispanic parent’s worst nightmare. My decisions go beyond myself. My family will not be the family that my parents ever envisioned. I live further away than my parents would like. I am pursuing a profession that makes little to no sense to my parents. I am practicing and believing in a completely different religious system than my parents. I am going against tradition in almost every imaginable way, and it hurts us both.

Even though there is pain, I continue to grow. I continue to learn. I continue to live. My sister is right in saying that my decisions are just that- mine. She wants me to claim my decisions as selfish and embrace the selfishness as a badge of honor. That has worked well to inspire her to live a happy, healthy life for herself, but I am different and can’t quite do that. Selfish will always have a negative connotation for me. Instead, I remind myself that taking care of myself and living my life my way is not selfish. Oscar Wilde has a beautiful quote that has become my mantra in times of feeling guilt for my “selfish” decisions.

“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live”

This quote has become increasingly meaningful after my move to Israel and as I try and plan what is next. I already try to live my life in such a way that I don’t impose myself on others, but this quote goes beyond that idea by expressing that it is not just okay but necessary to dictate yourself. I can’t make other people see decisions this way, because that would be against the principle itself. All I can do is continue to focus on what is important to me, ask myself how I want to live my life, and live accordingly.

Being Present and Grateful for this Moment.

This quote reminds me of the importance of living in the moment. It is tiring to constantly be fully present in moments in life. Sometime you need to watch t.v., eat, and write a paper all at the same time for time purposes, but also so you can “check out” for a while. Never the less, it is important to try and recognize each moment for its own meaning and not just a bridge to whatever is next.

Right now, I am standing on the edge of a moment- waiting for Shabbat and waiting for my graduation. Both moments are highly anticipated, but I will remember that this moment also have its own meaning. Who knows if I will live to see the next moment? I am grateful for this moment- sitting at my desk typing these thoughts out.

Let the moment live its life to its fullest, and when the time comes, let the moment pass peacefully away.

Emuna Daily

“Every moment has two faces: It is a moment defined by the past from which it extends and by the future to which it leads.  And it is a moment for itself, with its own meaning, purpose and life. Don’t kill a moment.” – Bringing Heaven Down to Earth by Tzvi Freeman

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Rhythm of Life: Omer

We are amid an amazing seven week period — the counting of the Omer.  Jews are commanded to verbally count the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot after nightfall each day. These days were originally connected to a harvest offering at the Temple and later became a season of semi-mourning in which some Jews do not cut their hair and weddings are not celebrated. For many, the counting of the Omer has become a time of reflection and creating connection between the redemption of Passover, the exodus from Egypt, and the revelation of Shavuot,  the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai.

Counting the Omer each night allows you to take a minute at relatively the same time each day and pause. In these moments, you create a pattern of  becoming fully aware of where you are at the present moment, both physically and in the larger rhythm of the Jewish calender.

During a class on Jewish Mysticism, my rabbi was talking about recognizing the rhythms of our lives and how the Jewish calender, with the flow of the holidays, serves as a the rhythm in a Jew’s life. We discussed how celebrating the same holidays year after year leads to a rhythm that allows you to revisit the same moments each time from a new vantage point. Much like the nightly counting of the Omer, that has one visiting the same  general time each night but with a fresh perspective and at least slightly different position in the world.

I can certainly see the amazing pattern that the Jewish calender creates for a Jewish soul, but during the discussion, I also recognized that the rhythm is not yet part of my life. I spent at least the past four years aware of the many major and minor Jewish holidays cycling through the year, but still, this has not been the rhythm of my life. Instead, I see the place I stand now, and the past years of my intimate venture into Judaism, as a step outside the rhythm.

Each night, as I count the Omer, I acknowledge the place it has settled into the heart and how it has built a pattern into my life. At the same time, I see myself as stepping outside of the established rhythm, and value these moments as beautiful, arrhythmic instants that stand outside the ordinary arrangement of time. I look forward to the future and seeing how the pattern and rhythm of life falls into the natural rhythm of Jewish calender.

 

One of my favorite quotes from a song to accompany my feelings:

“I fall into your rhythm, your beauty I do fly, I rush into your melody, I linger ’till I die.” – Just a Dream (Song), Griffin House (Band)

My weekly meditation: Habakkuk 3:2

“…though angry, remember Your compassion.” Habakkuk 3:2

Each week, I pick a verse or even a few words of Scripture or something else meaningful to meditate on each day. Something that I feel relates to my current situation and can be meaningful and relevant in times of joy and sorrow.  With the changes of everyday, each day I find new meaning within the words.

This week, the words that have really stuck with me are the words of Habakkuk as he pleads with Hashem to be compassionate and return to Jerusalem. These words have served as a personal plea within myself this week. I cry out from within my heart each day for patience and compassion as pray to Hashem, interact with others, and evaluate myself. Most importantly, I try to be fully present in my relationships with others and connect with them past superficial levels. Though I am in a state of stress and anxiety, I try my best to bring my whole self to my relationships and reach out in new ways. I try to find patience with Hashem, others, myself and life. When I begin to fill with negativity, I take a deep breath and ground myself with the words, “…though angry, remember your compassion.”

Quote Expressing My Gratitude and Suprise

“I may have not gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be.”– Douglas Adams

I am blessed to have the opportunity to keep and remember Shabbat within my community this week, and past and future weeks. I knew this is what I had wanted for so long, but never saw myself as actually being within the Jewish community. As I continue to learn and live Jewishly, I always remember that I did not know I would end up here and I don’t know the exact future events of my life, but Hashem will continually provide me with the resources to be where I need to be and where Hashem need’s me to be. And in a few hours, that will be dwelling deep within Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom.