Pondering Jew

How My Perceptions of G-d Have Evolved

October 21, 2015 11:50 AM

“Don’t worry, I’m fine,” I answer with the knowing smile of a veteran mother. This is my response to almost everyone who walks into our house these days and comments on how quiet it is.

If I weren’t “fine,” I would somehow allow myself to be sad that our youngest two children have simultaneously “left the nest,” and I refuse to allow that. Maybe it’s because I was blessed to have children at what was considered an “advanced maternal age,” so I’m old to be an empty-nester. Maybe it’s because I know that my husband and I never “planned” our family, so I have no regrets about not having more children. And maybe it’s because our daughter Elkie was just here from California for a week with her family, helping me to remember how joyfully challenging it was to raise all those kids. (Just to give you an idea, the garage-door repairman came once; the plumber had to come twice.)

But it’s more than that. “Don’t worry, I’m fine”I’m also “fine” because I have a visceral response to being pitied. Of all the things I ever wanted in life, what I wanted most was not to be pitied. Everything else was a bonus. Whether this is true for everyone, I don’t know. But my early perceptions of how G‑d interfaces with the world was that He was “upstairs,” randomly singling people out for the good and the not-so-good. Pity the poor person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And every time something awful happened to someone else, my first thought was, “Dear G‑d, please don’t let anything like that happen to me.”

And that early imprint carries over, much as I understand G‑d very differently after 30 years of guidance from Torah and Chassidut (now I know it’s impossible to understand Him). But I still respond defensively to someone who feels sorry for me.

It’s a blessing when the nest empties . . . nothing is wrong here, I think to myself. Besides, let’s be honest, there is the relief that comes with finishing the job, any job, really. The challenges, the uncertainty, the outcome, for better or worse—they’re over. And in my case, if I’ve managed to score anything above pitiful, I’ve outrun my worst fear.

I know it’s not the holiest way to think about life, or G‑d, and I’m working on it. The good news is that I’ve learned a lot of wonderful things about Him throughout the journey. Here are three of them:

1. G‑d Is Real

I wish I could remember the first time I heard about a deity, but I don’t. I do remember the “Aha!” moment when I petitioned the all-powerful One in the sky: I was on my way home from summer camp, and I prayed that my mother bought brownies for me. I will never forget the magical feeling when I saw the neatly tied box on the kitchen counter. Then again, I also prayed for Him to punish a girl I didn’t like, and something terrible actually happened to her. I feel awful about that to this day. But, ultimately, the idea that He could answer my prayers like that was terrifying to me. I didn’t do much of anything for Him, so why was He listening to me and doing what I wanted? What was I supposed to be asking of Him?

Over the last 30 years, as I’ve learned Why was He listening to me and what I wanted?Chassidut, my perceptions of G‑d have evolved. Chassidic teachings elucidate the many concepts that describe how all of creation comes into existence and stays in existence. I try to understand these concepts (I’m never quite sure that I do), but this learning affects my soul, revealing what it inherently knows: G‑d is real. He may be noncorporeal, but He is alive and eternal and constantly invested in everything that happens in the world. So what am I supposed to ask of Him? For health, family and sustenance, of course, but only because when these are in order, I can focus more on changing my inner world to better feel His presence. The pursuit of this relationship with G‑d leads to simchah, true spiritual happiness.

2. G‑d Is Good

If G‑d is good, why is this world filled with so much pain and suffering, not to mention the unspeakable suffering of His beloved “chosen” people? It’s a question worth pondering. I’ve learned that this world is not the “true” world, but is instead a test, to see how we can show our love for G‑d when it’s so difficult to perceive Him, when His goodness is so often hidden from us. I’ve learned that everything in life is an opportunity to reveal His presence, to overcome or transform the apparent obstacles that conceal the truth of His existence. (This is supposed to be work, in case you were wondering.)

Fortunately, this is a cumulative test for all humanity, and our collective results have accrued. G‑d also assures us the test is only for a limited time, up to 6,000 years. And we’re closing in on that time, which means we’re almost ready to enter a new era. Which means that everything I do for Him, especially in the realm of learning Torah and doing mitzvahs, brings this era closer. The spiritual signposts are clear that this time, the time of Moshiach, is imminent.

I can’t imagine what the world will be like when G‑d’s energy is openly revealed to everyone’s physical eyes, but It can’t be soon enoughthat’s because I’ve never experienced it. But I do know it’s going to be good and it’s going to be soon. But it can’t be soon enough. I’ve learned that G‑d wants me to hasten this process however I can. I’m happy to try, knowing that my one small act of kindness could transform the world into a place that will be all good, all G‑d, all the time. (Oh, yes, and pity will be a thing of the past.)

3. G‑d Performs Miracles

In the meantime, chassidic wisdom encourages every Jew to live with bitachon, trust in G‑d. “Think good and it will be good” is the aphorism that encapsulates my mandate to deeply and sincerely trust in G‑d to provide me with the blessings of health, wealth and family. He may contravene nature, or I may experience miracles within nature, but when I truly trust that He will provide me open and revealed good, He does.

Of course, I’m supposed to work through natural channels to obtain these blessings, but I do that only because He wants me to. It has nothing to do with my “deserving” His goodness; it is simply a matter of my trusting in G‑d to provide it. As I see it, when I have bitachon, we’re both happy. G‑d gets what He wants most from me: my sincere trust that everything comes from Him. And I get to experience revealed good, absolutely sure of where it comes from.

Lieba Rudolph lives in Pittsburgh, PA, and writes about Jewish spirituality.

When I Got to Planet Lubavitch

October 21, 2015 11:44 AM

I've never actually had a conversation with an alien, but I do think I have some idea what it feels like to be one.

At our first authentic Shabbat experience almost 30 years ago, my husband and I landed on Planet Lubavitch, inhabited by women in wigs and men in beards. Even the planet’s name sounded strange. What kind of word was “Lubavitch”? My husband’s cousin had become a Lubavitcher several years earlier. What that meant to me was that she gave us Shabbat candlesticks for our wedding—in other words, what she wanted to give us. It I’ve never had a conversation with an alienseemed pretty obvious that she was trying to “convert us,” which served as ample proof that this thing called Lubavitch was a cult. I even imagined these people dancing euphorically on the street, not unlike members of other cults I’d seen in action.

But somehow we had ended up on this planet. And behind the wigs and beards there were real people, and some of them came from backgrounds not all that different from my husband’s and mine. Those were the people I was most interested in, the ones who had made a conscious decision to leave the reality of their birth. I hung on to every word of one man in particular, just because he had gone to Harvard. Why would someone like that become a Lubavitcher? Oh, I had lots of questions for him and everyone, but they had lots of answers for me, too. It was impossible to be insulting or irreverent to these interesting beings.

For reasons G‑d only knows, something happened at that cosmic encounter that compelled us to change course and never look back. I had been looking for truth in this world, and these Lubavitchers all seemed to have an otherworldly map telling them the way to find it. And that Shabbaton gave me a glimpse of the map: by keeping the G‑d-given commandments, I could help bring Moshiach and the world of truth I craved.

After that weekend, I began suiting myself up for life on this new planet. I’m sure that more than one person looked at my husband and me and thought that Chabad (which is synonymous with Lubavitch) got us just like they got his cousin who gave us the candlesticks.

But most people don’t get gotten, certainly not these days. It’s almost mainstream to party with Chabad and even pray with Chabad. (Okay, and give tzedakah to Chabad.) But you don’t have to become Chabad.

But once I got to Planet Lubavitch, I soon understood that getting gotten—seeing and knowing G‑d in everything—is what I’m here to do. Although this would mean recreating my entire being, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings could help me every step of the way.

What did it take to become a Lubavitcher?

When asked what it meant to be a chassid, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber, answered, “A chassid is a lamplighter.” The analogy continues by saying that just as a lamplighter ignites the street lights of a town, a chassid takes responsibility for igniting his own soul in order to help those around him. He does not live for himself and instead strives to give to others whatever he has and knows.

That’s A chassid is a lamplighternot an easy mandate. (Maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t mention any of that at the Shabbaton!) After we moved to Planet Lubavitch, there were times of uncertainty; sometimes I second-guessed my decision. But I know now that everything was meant to be, that it came from somewhere high above the heavens.

Occasionally, I wonder what my life would have been like had we not traveled this way, but that gets harder and harder to imagine, since with G‑d’s help our children and grandchildren are now an inextricable thread in the fabric of life here. (What a bonus: Planet Lubavitch is sustainable!)

But as good as it is, life on Planet Lubavitch could be so much better. The Rebbe assured everyone that a better reality is imminent, that heaven and earth are about to merge with the arrival of Moshiach. The exact details of how this will happen, I don’t know. I just know the Rebbe is counting on me to do everything in my power to make it a reality in this world.

Lieba Rudolph lives in Pittsburgh, PA, and writes about Jewish spirituality.
Lieba Rudolph lives in Pittsburgh, PA, and writes about Jewish spirituality.
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