Contact Us
Let's Go For Coffee

Religion is Not a Quick Fix

Religion is Not a Quick Fix

 Email

I wrote the following after answering one of the questions on our Ask the Rabbi section titled: I'm beginning to lose interest in being religious.... It was a question from someone who was no longer feeling inspired in his observance of the mitzvot. What interested me was the number of responses to this article and how it struck a chord with so many. Here are my thoughts after reading the many comments. Please share yours in the comment section below.

Not only was I raised in a "religious" home, but with my father serving for the last fifty years as the rabbi of our, at first fledging, and now, vibrant, Toronto community, I was given the endearing designation of being "the rabbi's daughter."

From an early age, I came to realize that this is how I was looked upon by members of our community, with all the expectations and implications that that entails. It was almost an unwritten rule that no matter the age of me or my siblings, we would be seen as an example and product of the religious lifestyle that my father's position represented. As such, from the outside at least, I think I always was conscious that our family life had to be viewed as the "idyllic" life associated with Torah observance.

After all, you wouldn't want to go to a dentist whose teeth were crooked. Who would take lessons from a fitness instructor whose fatty cellulite bulged? Or, sessions with a marital therapist whose marriage you knew was in shambles, or a psychiatrist who couldn't begin his day without this daily dose of retinol!

And so, the rabbi who was "selling" a Jewish lifestyle that provided meaning, happiness and fulfillment, likewise needed to lead the perfect, ideal life, replete with model children (and teenagers) who obediently and respectfully followed his lead. He also had to have a blissful marriage of honeymoon quality. Otherwise, what subtle message was he sending about the Judaism that he was working so hard to promote?

Who would take sessions from a marital therapist whose own marriage was in shambles?

I think a lot of us look at Judaism that way—as a means to provide us with the deeper—perhaps even the deepest—gratification, joy and purpose in our lives. We see it as a means to an end—much like daily exercise and healthful living. I'm willing to push myself, exercise and strain my muscles, and even deny myself some tasty pleasures—provided that I can visibly reap the benefits of a well-toned physique. With a religious lifestyle, though, we expect the benefits, like its many rules, to be all-encompassing: fulfillment in every aspect of our emotional, spiritual and intellectual wellness.

Religious people, goes the assumption, don't ever have any crisis of faith, any questions, or any doubts. They live placid, self-fulfilled lives, without any downs, devoid of any earth-shattering questions.

Despite its rigorous demands, who wouldn't want to live even the most regimented life—as long as its promised return was happiness in every aspect of life: a meaningful communal life, harmonious family life and abundant personal fulfillment?

Here's a little confession. Ready?

How peaceful.

And how unrealistic.

Here's a little confession. Ready? It's not a perfect lifestyle.

Let me clarify, religious life does offer meaning and joy, close familial ties, improved relationships between parents and children, and so much more in so many areas of life.

But religious people also have questions. They too have crisis of faith, moments of feeling isolated and abandoned by G‑d. Their lives are not a tranquil paradise, and to some degree they face some of the same issues of contemporary society.

In fact, I'll go so far as to say that I'll bet that respected rabbi or lecturer that you've just heard who inspired you with his fiery passion and ignited your soul with his powerful message, woke up this morning consumed with doubt as he faced some quandary in his own life. Yes, up there from the pulpit he sounds so confident, so full of faith, but behind the scenes, he deals with conflict and questions in his life too.

Does it make the rabbi, lecturer, (or author) a hypocrite? I don't think so. I think, rather, it makes him a seeker. Someone who thinks and someone who feels. And someone who is a seeker will not be satisfied with the status quo or with standard answers and beliefs but will constantly be probing deeper and searching for more.

In fact, it is probably in his greatest moments of earnest searching and honesty that that pulpit rabbi or inspirational lecturer or writer has come up with the ideas that you find so beautiful. Because he questioned. Because he felt disillusioned. Because he was angry with G‑d and the society around him. And because he was alive with emotion. Not because he was comfortable with platitudes and accepted norms.

Non-thinkers, non-feelers and non-seekers, whether religious or not, will never have any questions or doubts, because they live one-dimensional lives. But Judaism is multi-dimensional and seekers will be bombarded with questions. They will question their level of commitment, their value system, their stereotypes, their realness, their goals, and the norms within their society. They will have questions about the suffering in our world—their own, their close ones and those around them.

So what then is the point of a religious lifestyle that won't stifle the onslaught of questions or the crisis of faith?

So what then is the point of leading a religious lifestyle if it won't stifle the onslaught of questions, the crisis of faith? If it will not squelch the soul tuggings and yearnings? If it won't provide me with a serene, self-righteous lifestyle? With a harmonious family life and with children who obediently follow my lead? In short, with easy, one-dimensional answers?

Imagine a woman in difficult child birth saying, "I can't wait for this to be over, so that I can finally relax again!" You would undoubtedly think that little did she know but her new experience would be full of everything but relaxation. Her nights would be filled with round-the-clock feedings; and her days consumed with caring for this little one. And of course, as her child grows older, the physical exertion would just grow to bigger, emotionally draining problems. Relaxation? Not as a parent!

A religious lifestyle similarly doesn't afford us with the triteness of Great! Now I can finally relax! Becoming accustomed with the laws, making them a habitual part of your life, and even immersing yourself in its intellectual depths, also doesn't ensure that from here on in, your life will run idyllically, all pain and conflicts erased.

Living a Torah life is about far more than ensuring the means to your greatest pleasure.

It is about being given the instruction to live a life that G‑d wants of you. It is about being given the tools, the venue, the building blocks to search deep within, to probe intensely, in order to deal with whatever crises or conflict you face.

It's not about immediate gratification, or about experiencing the unruffled life of non-thinkers, non-feelers and non-seekers.

It is about seeking your potential and searching further yet—and those moments can be demanding, agonizing and anything but gratifying.

But ultimately, it is about knowing that there are answers.

And moreover, that there is a Knower.

What does leading a Jewish life mean to YOU?


Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
9 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous February 18, 2008

Re: Re: What G-d Wants? Better.
I will read the articles you suggest.
Thanks! Reply

Tzvi Freeman February 18, 2008

Re: Re: What God wants Yes, that is the question. And that's why I concluded with "It is G_d's free will--and so we fulfill it with ours."

In short: G_d's free choice that we should keep Shabbat and not eat pork is reflected in our free choice to keep Shabbat and not eat pork. We are, so to speak, empowered to play out G_d's own free will.

Then there are things in which we have no free choice. Like who will be our parents, the cycle of the seasons and the laws of physics. This also reflects G_d's choice: These choices came after His initial choice in Torah and mitzvahs. Therefore, all was already determined by the Torah. The sun must rise in the morning, since the Torah contains a mitzvah of saying Shma Yisrael at the time of sunrise. There must be pigs, since there is a mitzvah of not eating them.

Since these choices were predetermined (by the choices of Torah), in our lives, they are also predetermined. This is the explanation of Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch in several of his discourses.

More on this in an article on our site: How Does G-d Decide What's Right and What's Wrong? More on Free Will in Am I just a Figment of Someone's Imagination? and The Paradox of Free Choice: Six Questions. Reply

Anonymous February 18, 2008

Re: What God wants? [What R' Alkastilla is saying is that G-d wants because He decided to want--not because He needs anything, or is lonely, or bored. Nothing forces His hand. Everything starts there, with Him just deciding, "I want a world that feels otherness from me, and there I will be found."]

I’m sorry to say that I find this answer somewhat unsatisfactory. When perfection is achieved all wants should be fulfilled. Therefore, no matter how G-d arrived at His decision (or desire) to create our world, once that was done, how could He still want something from either the people He chose or the gentile world in general? Yes, our existence proves G-d must have wanted us here. And, yes, the Torah explains what He wants from us as Jews. I don’t question those facts. I simply do not understand the incongruity of a perfect G-d being positioned as having desires that may or may not be fulfilled. As a simple example: If I eat trayfe, does G-d experience disappointment of any sort? In the same vein, I constantly wonder why my perfect G-d would create such an imperfect world. I find this very perplexing.
Reply

Anonymous February 18, 2008

Re: What God wants? [What R' Alkastilla is saying is that G-d wants because He decided to want--not because He needs anything, or is lonely, or bored. Nothing forces His hand. Everything starts there, with Him just deciding, "I want a world that feels otherness from me, and there I will be found."]

I’m sorry to say that I find this answer somewhat unsatisfactory. When perfection is achieved all wants should be fulfilled. Therefore, no matter how G-d arrived at His decision (or desire) to create our world, once that was done, how could He still want something from either the people He chose or the gentile world in general? Yes, our existence proves G-d must have wanted us here. And, yes, the Torah explains what He wants from us as Jews. I don’t question those facts. I simply do not understand the incongruity of a perfect G-d being positioned as having desires that may or may not be fulfilled. As a simple example: If I eat trayfe (non-Kosher food), does G-d experience disappointment of any sort? In the same vein, I constantly wonder why my perfect G-d would create such an imperfect world. I find this very perplexing. Reply

Tzvi Freeman February 18, 2008

Re: What God wants This is an important question. Problem is, we are here, so G_d must want us here. So what happened that made Him want us here?

This is similar to a classic question asked by the kabbalist, R' Yuda Chayit of R' Yosef of Castilla. He wrote, "When the world was created, what was it that changed in His will that He should create it then and not at another time? It seems like a change, heaven forfend. And if you will say that He had it in mind from before, then what prevented Him from doing it then?

R' Yosef responded at length, but the meat of it is in these words: "You asked that since G_d does not change, as it is written, 'I am G_d, I do not change,' if so how was there a change in His will to create the world at the time it was created and not earlier?"

"...This is not really a question. Since G_d created the world willfully and not out of necessity, therefore there is no way to ask for a reason why. There is no reason to [this] will."

"When you provide a reason that a person wants one thing more than another, you can then ask, so what is the reason for this choice. You are looking for a cause to his will. If so, when you ask what is G_d's reason, you are looking for a cause that precedes Him and arouses Him to want this...But there is nothing that came before Him, so nothing causes Him to will."

What R' Yosef is saying is that G_d's will is different from our will. Since His will is the beginning of all things, we cannot say that anything causes Him to will, since that would be placing something prior to His will. Ergo, there is no reason, since a reason is also a cause.

G_d wants because He decided to want--not because He needs anything, or is lonely, or bored. Nothing forces His hand. Everything starts there, with Him just deciding, "I want a world that feels otherness from me, and there I will be found."

In that initial will lies all His Torah and the mitzvahs that we do. It is beginning of all things and their core. It is G_d's free will--and so we fulfill it with ours. Reply

Lea Zürich, Switzerland February 15, 2008

Mitzwa gedola lehyot besimcha? Dear Chana, your article on leading a Jewish life impressed me much. I never asked myself what does it mean to lead a Jewish life.I was born Jewish, no free choice, and here I am. Is it easy? No. Is it struggling, suffering, challenging? Yes. Would I change to another religion if I could? No. Are we Jews masochist? "Mitzwa gedola lehyot besimcha" (it is a great mitzva to be happy) is a big challenge, as it looks more that life is one big struggle with very rare and precious moments of simcha, at least in a Jewish life. The need to look for happiness, beauty and good things in this hard life is legitimated. As, at least for me, I can see G-d better in the nice things as in the bad one. And for happiness I am living. Thank you for your wonderful articles and giving us something to think about. Reply

Anonymous February 14, 2008

What God wants? I can't help always wondering how or why I should think a perfect omnipotent God would ever "want" anything -- especially from His greatest creation. More to the point, wanting something implies a need for something. Yet, the concept of a perfect God excludes all needs. This is just a comment on a thought that always has me perplexed. Reply

Suleyma Romero Riverhead, NY February 13, 2008

leading a Jewish life Living a Jewish life to me means more than knowing that there is a Knower that has all the answers to my deepest longings and quests for knowledge and understanding. It means knowing Him and being assured that He works all things whether good or bad to ultimately be for my own good. Through His Torah, He enlightens and educates me to reach a higher level in which His presence is not only felt but also seen by those around us. As we become aware of this, we truly have created a "dwelling" for the Most High in which He comfortably exists and uplifts us to a higher understanding of His Law and love for us. Reply

DTW February 12, 2008

Putting people into religious categories We tend to call people religious or non-religious by how they affiliate or live day to day but mitzvos can transcend time and space. A non-practicing Jew who puts on tefillin, is at that moment in his life, a practicing Jew, even if for only a moment. A practicing Jew who neglects or transgresses something G-d forbid, is at that moment, non-practicing. Reply

Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the author of Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman and four other books. Weisberg is a noted educator and columnist and lectures worldwide on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul.
Recent Posts
Blog Archive