By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I am writing this letter anonymously because you know me and I am more comfortable asking you these questions and sharing my frustrations with Judaism if you don’t know who I am.
I am a Reform Jew who strives to know God. I say the morning blessings and light candles on Shabbat. I usually go to services Friday and Saturday and go to weekly Torah study. I do not keep kosher but don’t eat pork or shellfish. I say many blessings throughout the day.
So many of the prayers we say are thanks for receiving the Torah and asking God to teach us Torah. Torah is primary. Yet, I study it diligently and find an exceedingly angry and vengeful God. I want to have a relationship with God but do not see that God wants a relationship with me. He seems to have an on-and-off relationship with the Jewish people, but not individuals (unless they are patriarchs or prophets.) I know you are going to say that he wants us to do the mitzvot as the basis for a relationship. But it is unlikely that I am going to do much more than I do now.
I had very abusive parents and our God feels like a continuation of that. Quit whining about your food or I’ll give you something to whine about…
I was at a Christian funeral last week. I was so moved by the unconditional love that Jesus has for those who believe in him. I wish our God loved us that way. It is very tempting. I do not feel loved by our God. I feel that He is constantly judging me and I can’t win, therefore He will never love me.
In Eastern religions, meditation is the key to oneness with the Divine. I practice meditation (without religious content), and find that it brings me closer to a connection with God.
I just don’t understand how Judaism does this. Or maybe it is only for Orthodox Jews. If this is the case, I will never be an Orthodox Jew so I can never have a relationship with our God.
I don’t know if any of this makes sense. I am just very frustrated with Judaism because it does not seem to offer me a way to connect with God as an individual.
Firstly, I would recommend doing away with your perception of Orthodox as opposed to other Jews. (A Jew entered the post office in December and requested 25 Chanukah stamps. The clerk answered, “Sure, sir, which denomination?” Frustrated the Jew exclaimed, “Oy vey, even here?! OK, give me 10 Reform, 10 Conservative and five Orthodox!”)
Although the different labels Jews assign to themselves might, at times, carry some value, for the most part they serve only as a smoke screen which masks the fact that we are all just Jews — the same Jews all of one family, albeit with different levels of observance. These labels often do nothing but serve as a wedge between us. And, in your case, could erroneously serve as a wedge between a caring Jew like yourself and God Himself!
Our tradition teaches us that the Al-mighty loves each and every Jew, regardless of their observance level. For that reason every Jew has a place in the world to come, which is a result of that love. This unconditional love is an outgrowth of us becoming His special, beloved children when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai.
The unconditional love is there. It is up to us, the Jewish nation and each Jew individually, to tap into that love to the extent that he or she desires and is willing to make the effort and, at times, sacrifice to do.
The important thing to keep in mind is that in God’s eyes it’s not “all or nothing.” This is another mistake which we are misled into thinking due to labels. Technically, there’s no such thing as “becoming an Orthodox Jew.” There are just Jews, some observing more, some less. There’s not an Orthodox Jew out there that has “made it” and doesn’t have plenty to improve on! The important thing is that we’re all on the ladder and climbing upward; upward in our connection to God’s unconditional love for us, a love that he beckons us to embrace.
Focus, first, on what you are already doing. Don’t simply recite blessings; meditate upon them. Let a blessing take a few minutes to meditate deeply on the gift you are about to receive from the God that loves you and provides you with life, an apple, your sense of sight. Judaism is all about meditation; just that it’s not once or twice a day; we have meditative opportunities throughout the day!
If you perceive the God of the Jews as angry and vengeful, I suggest you consider amending your reading list and seek out those books and teachers who can provide you the positive insights and connection to the everlasting love of God to His children. Remember, most of what you find appealing in those other religions they learned from us!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.