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Are You Happily Ever After?

Are You Happily Ever After?

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Romance. Passion. Love unrequited due to cruel twists of fate, or achieved due to good luck. These are the kind of romantic tensions that drive the plotlines of everything from dime novels and popular cinema to classic literary masterpieces. These love stories usually end with either catastrophic or blissful resolutions — everyone either dies (as in Romeo and Juliet) or lives happily ever after. But in the Western mindset, life after the goal is reached, the happily ever after part, is rarely dealt with. The curtain simply comes down. Viewed as such, the romantic pursuit is, in effect, the goal.

In the Jewish view, romance is only a piece of a much larger puzzle — which includes both a clear picture of the blissful state being worked for and an equally clear way to live once that state has been achieved.

It is quite a difference.

During my youth, I was asked to deliver the sermon at my religious school's Consecration Service. I went on and on about the glories of being Jewish but then added that, even after years of religious education, I really didn't believe in G‑d. Instantly, a hush fell over the room (voicing a thought like this thirty-odd years ago was taboo). Forging on, I concluded, "But although I may not have an unquestioning belief in G‑d, I have my young, intelligent Jewish mind looking for Him, and who can say which position is better?"

As I returned to my seat, people whispered, brilliant, and, so insightful. The Rabbi took my place at the pulpit and said my attitude was, in fact, the real Jewish approach of constant questioning and searching rather than blind belief.

In other words, there are — so people think — only two possibilities: either you have blind faith in the stereotype of G‑d, or you are on an often painful but dramatic, romantic search. To actually find G‑d, or absolute meaning in life, and remain a mature, cultivated person is categorically impossible. As someone put it, "If you talk to G‑d, you're holy; if He talks to you, you're insane."

If you ask the man on the street what he's working for in life, he might reply, to make a better world. Then ask him, And once we've eliminated war, injustice, disease, ignorance and all the rest — then what? He'll probably shrug his shoulders. Similarly, ask a spiritually oriented person what Judaism is about and he or she might answer, "Our search for G‑d." Follow with, "And once we've found G‑d?" The response will probably be, "The searching itself is the finding."

Why this unwillingness to ask what is it all for? What does a real relationship with G‑d mean?

Approaching G‑d from the Western mindset that the pursuit equals the goal leaves most people without a developed grasp about who and what G‑d is. And without this comes fear of the unknown. Many people are afraid to think about G‑d because they're afraid of where it might lead them. It's safer to focus on The Search and forget about the possibility of The Consummation, or to declare axiomatically that G‑d has not actually communicated with us and never will.

Granted, this makes for a good, taut storyline that can hold people's attention until the final curtain. But if G‑d created man and did not communicate what He wants of us, what does that tell us about G‑d? Did He create us for sport, to sit back amused as we grope for an understanding of why we're here? Or is He actually incapable of communicating with us? What parent, after his child is born, throws him on the street and says, OK junior, go experience life, or gives him a new car but never teaches him how to drive?

Although there are individuals and philosophies willing to accept such possibilities, Judaism considers them inconsistent with the nature of G‑d. Judaism provides clear-cut concepts of who and what G‑d is and what our relationship to Him can and should be. Precise answers are offered to the question of what the perfect world is and how to live happily ever after. The Torah makes what were searching for crystal clear.

But where, you may ask, is the romance in the relationship? Where are the passion and tension of the search? If we have all the answers neatly packaged, aren't we abrogating our free will and our spirit of inquiry?

The answer lies in the ultimate Jewish love song — the Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim) — that we read on Passover. Through the Haggadah we relive our people's exodus from Egypt. Egypt in Hebrew (Mit'zrayim) comes from the word for limitations (meitzarim). Going out of Egypt — on a deeper level — means breaking out of our limitations and constrictions.

And since G‑d is infinite, no matter how intense or fulfilled our relationship with Him is, we can always search for ways to attain a stronger, purer bond. Therefore, the minute we reach one level in our relationship with G‑d, our love creates the yearning that compels us to strive for the next. In this context, each stage (each goal) is unique and attainable unto it'self, "For this is very close to you: it is in your mouth and heart to do it" (Deuteronomy 30:14). Judaism offers us both the tension and passion of romance as well as the bliss and release of fulfillment. And each one feeds the other: the more intense the fulfillment, the greater the yearning for higher fulfillment; the greater the yearning, the more intense the resolution.

The Haggadah tells us to think of ourselves as going out of Egypt in every generation. Inner Dimensional Judaism adds: every day of our life, we pursue a constant romance and love affair with G‑d.

Originally published in Farbrengen Magazine
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Anonymous Blacksburg, VA August 1, 2011

Why do you believe G-d can't talk? With all due respect, I am bothered by your suggestion that G-d cannot legitimately talk to you. Didn't he create the heavens and the earth? Didn't he speak to many prophets in biblical times? Didn't he speak to sages since then? Why not now? Why not to you?

Picture this: What would you do if your neighbor came to your house three times a day, rang the doorbell, and when you answered, he proceeded to talk for 15-30 minutes without letting you get a word in edgewise...and then walked away as soon as he finished his spiel?

Perhaps he is just waiting for us to listen. Reply

Yanki Tauber, editor, chabad.org June 30, 2004

Spelling "G-d" According to Torah law the divine name is sacred and great care must be taken to accord it proper care and reverence. For this reason, it is best to avoid writing or printing the word G-d in its full spelling in all but the most recognizably sacred books (e.g. a bible or prayer book), lest it be unwittingly defaced of treated irreverently. Since many web users print out pages to read or to pass on, it is best to follow this practice with on-line content as well.

Avoiding the display of the actual word "G-d" also serves to remind us that even as we discuss the Almighty and His influence upon our lives, He is above and beyond all our words; that even as we are enjoined, by the Almighty Himself, to seek Him with our thought, speech and deeds, He transcends all human effort to name and describe His reality. Reply

Ug Agomuo Lagos, Nigeria June 30, 2004

Clerify Your articles are quite interesting but why do you always write God as G-d? Many thanks. Reply

Anonymous montevideo, uruguay April 28, 2004

very insightful. thanks. a guten shabbos Reply

Anonymous amsterdam, netherlands April 27, 2004

clear and well written and very much to the point ! I sent it to some friends, who are starting to learn what judaism is about. These articles are a tremendous help. Thx! Reply

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