“Dear Rabbi” is Ha’Am’s advice column. Every month, Ha’Am will ask one question posed by our readers to five UCLA Jewish leaders: Rabbi Aaron Lerner, Rabbi Alex Kress, Rabbi Naftali Hanfling, Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, and Sharona Kaplan. Their answers will be posted in the column. To have your question featured, please submit it at tinyurl.com/haamadvice.
First, one has to answer the question of what “Jewish faith” even means. If you lost faith, there might have been some good reasons for that. Perhaps you rejected some of the pediatric notions of God that some of us are raised with but which quickly dissolve with more scrutiny / maturity. That’s actually probably healthy. Now can try to figure out what an adult version of faith might look like. Try Neil Gillman’s Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew or take a high level course on theology. Trust your own answers, don’t worry about trying to conform to someone else’s demands about what must believe.
Throughout life, spiritual yearning and religious curiosity ebb and flow. Philosopher Martin Buber teaches that divine revelation is not a fixed, dated point between the creation of the world and its future redemption. Instead, spirituality and religious understanding are possible at any time. Where and when that spark of illumination finds us and how we individually reconnect depends on our singular paths through life. Buber famously quips that “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” At Hillel, we’re here to help you uncover yours and find your on-ramp back into our tradition.
Well you can think of Judaism as a relationship that every single Jew is a part of. Just like all relationships, sometimes we will feel that we have a deep and close connection and sometimes we will feel like we are further away. There are two important things to do when you are trying to build a stronger relationship be it with other people or with Judaism. One is to get to know the other party better. The more you know the person you are trying to connect with the closer the relationship can be and the better we know what Judaism is about the stronger relationship we can build with it. The second idea is that one develops more love and a closer relationship through giving and investing be that time, money, energy or effort. Someone who wants to develop their relationship with Judaism further should start by learning more about it and investing of your time and energy in the process.
A few decades ago, a young NY businessman proudly told the Lubavitcher Rebbe that he had organized High Holiday services for hundreds of Jews in Manhattan who had “no connection to their Jewish heritage whatsoever.” Perplexed, the Rebbe said, “huh?” So the businessman, thinking that the Rebbe hadn’t heard him, repeated his statement louder. Apparently, the issue wasn’t with hearing but in the formulation. The Rebbe’s face turned serious and he said, “They have all the connection in the world to their Jewish faith, they are children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” The businessman learned the lesson in appreciating the immutable nature of Jewish identity. Mr. George Rohr went on to become of the biggest philanthropists in the Jewish world and the main supporter of Chabad on Campus.
You can never lose connection with your Jewish faith. It is hardwired into us.
But in order to have this connection palpably revealed, do something tangible to actualize it. Try lighting a Shabbat candle 18 minutes before sunset for 4 Fridays or give tefillin wrapping a try for the next 10 days. Your faith will be nourished with your actions. We are here to help. Lchaim!
Just like when you go work out in a gym, your muscle first breaks down before being strengthened, when someone is working out their relationship with Judaism, sometimes there can be breaks before they emerge stronger spiritually.
In fact, the Talmud states that the place (ie spiritual heights) occupied by those who return to Judaism is inaccessible even to the most righteous Jews (Brachot34b). The ownership and allegiance that is born from the personal decision to invest in religion redefines and strengthens their relationship with it.
Have you ever broken up from a serious relationship only to get back together weeks or months later? When that happened to me, I ended up marrying that man! Spiritual relationships are not that different…
- Rabbi Aaron Lerner
- Rabbi Alex Kress
- Rabbi Naftali Hanfling
- Rabbi Dovid Gurevich
- Sharona Kaplan