To Be a Jew - Part II
Thoughts on Deserts & Distractions
In To Be a Jew – Part I (http://www.shuvoo.com/articles/AY-to-be-a-jew-or-not.php), I took a candid look at conversion, a momentous event in my own life and a topic on which I frequently receive inquiries and referrals. In this next segment, I would like to reflect on what it means to be a Jew … a massive question with more possible answers, all credible, that one could even begin to imagine. So, I can only speak for myself … in search of my Jewish self.
Over the past three months, events that transpired in my life gave me opportunity to question the strength of my identity as a Jew, to ask myself “what should I be doing as a Jew?” There were times during those three months that I felt very distant from God as I struggled to define “what is a Jew” in relation to my own life. This struggle became especially intense when it came to my teaching the Seven Laws of Noach and my empathy for those struggling with various religious doctrines or trying to decide between converting to Judaism and living a life of Torah as encompassed by the Universal Torah Laws. In actuality, the appropriateness of my work with Shuvoo had been questioned. I had been told that maintaining these contacts with “my old world” was detrimental to my development as an Orthodox Jewish woman and that I needed to stop any and all outreach to the non-Jewish world. As I wrestled to accommodate this advice, the resulting struggle within nearly tore me in two. I actually became physically ill.
It is not by coincidence that the weekly Torah and Haftorah portion usually contain a stunning parallel to contemporary world events. Even more, they contain a chord of internal resonance unique to each one of us if we are willing to receive it.
Not long ago the Torah portion was Beshalach. My
name, Ashirah (“I will sing” – future tense), first appears in the Torah
in this Parsha where it can be found in the opening line of Shirat haYam, the
Song of the Sea that celebrates Hashem’s mighty deliverance of Israel from the
constraints of Mitzrayim. Torah
Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum of Azamra, in his commentary on Beshalach,
linked the contents of the weekly portion to Parsha Va’etchanan,
the second Parsha of Devarim, which just
happens to be my “birth” Parsha as a Jew. It contains not only The Shema,
but the second recording of the Aseret HaDibrot (Ten Words, Ten Commandments). Rabbi Greenbaum
noted that: “the lessons learned by the Children of
Rabbi Greenbaum’s commentary reminded me of a spiritual truth that became a daily reality for me during the year I lived in Kfar Eldad, a small settlement in the Judean desert. The Hebrew word for desert is “midbar”. Rabbi Greenbaum explains:
climactic drama of the Exodus, related in last week
How true the Rabbi’s words. How real an experience … one I was reminded of every day when I awoke in my caravan and looked out my window at the starkly beautiful and ruggedly harsh Judean desert that stretched for sixteen kilometers down to the Dead Sea, that sparkling sliver of blue visible against the hills of Moab on a clear day. The year I lived in the desert, during my conversion process, was a daily tikkun (correction) both spiritually and, many times, physically. Life in the desert is not easy. The life of “settlers” as we were/are called can be challenging by times. Twice I was the target of Palestinian stoning attacks. On August 31, 2004, I was hit by a percussion bomb resulting in a significant loss of hearing in my right ear. I fared very well with simply a loss of hearing. Most Jewish terror victims do not get off so easily.
As I reflected on the connection between midbar (desert) and medaber (speaks), I remembered how much those “desert” experiences, those times of spiritual wilderness during our lives do speak to us, IF we will but listen. The bigger question is how long it takes us to pay attention to the Still Small Voice that is prodding us from within and the events that are walling us into “narrow straits” from without.
ago I had realized the obvious parallels between my conversion and the
Exodus. HaKadosh Baruch Hu had released
me from the Mitzrayim of my past and led me, with no small number of
‘signs and wonders’ into the nation of
More about “the right time of year” in To Be a Jew – Part III.
Until next time ~