Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Spirit is the Struggle

היום המשה ימים לעמר
Today is the five days of the omer
הוד שבחסד
A day of humility in a week of loving kindness

My memory is very vague when it comes to what I learned in my religious school at my synagogue. I can remember some teachings from my time spent in my later teens at an after school Hebrew High School, but those early formative years remain, for the most part, a blank. But there were two messages that came through loud and clear. In Judaism, there are no angels and there is no concept of life after death---period. I suspect I might have some new readers who grew up in the same environment in the same time as I did, and I would appreciate hearing if your experience mirrors mine.

When I told this to my teacher, Rabbi Alan Lew, he was incredulous. "Marilyn, angels are all over the liturgy----'Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh'" he said, quoting from the Kedushah prayer of the Amidah, a section of prayers that is a part of each of the three daily services in Jewish practice. I agree, it's hard to imagine I missed this recounting of the angels praising God, but again, I have no memory of learning anything about the prayers--or even about the Torah, where there is a description of the golden lid of the Ark--with two sculpted "cherubim."

The resurrection issue is the same. Again, it's all over the liturgy, as one of the descriptives of God is that of the one who "brings life to the dead." And in today's haftarah--Ezekiel's vision of "Dry Bones"--those bones are given flesh and receive the breath of life. But in my early years of Jewish learning, belief in life after death was considered to be in the domain of others, non-existent in Judaism.

Part of the problem here is the nature of the times. Friends who grew up within other traditions tell the same story. Any hint of spirituality was stripped from mainstream religious teachings--it seems there was a fear of anything outside the perceived norm. It seemed to many of us that appearance was more important than substance. Questioning, a core of Jewish text study, was not encouraged as much as acceptance.

I am trying to give my students as wide a range of Jewish teachings as I can, while encouraging them to see the lessons in our ancient texts that still speak to us today. I want them to find the questions that are more meaningful than the answers. I want them to know to "see" the angels in our text, to read of the One who brings life to the dead, let them grapple with the unknown. That where the spirituality resides.

It always seem to come down to the struggle. There's a reason we are called the people of Israel--the ones who wrestle with God.........

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