On Shavuous, we celebrate receiving the Torah from G-d. At its core, the Torah can be seen as the most profound act of love from G-d to his children; much like the parent of an unruly child, G-d provides rules, boundaries, expectations, and encouragement, so the Jews may grow further as a people. The Torah is G-d’s form of tough love; love that inspires us to grow with every passing year.
Looking beyond the events at Mt. Sinai, I also like to approach Shavuous as a time to reflect on how we give each other the “Torah.” Not in the sense of literally handing each other stone tablets or rolls of parchment paper; instead, how are we giving a piece of Torah to one another, inspiring each other to grow?
My “aha” moment came from an act of love, of true acceptance and connection; a passing of the Torah, if you will.
I began my journey toward the mikveh three years ago, bowing out for a time as I struggled with my anger against organized religion. Throughout my life, I felt a strong connection to G-d; however, in religion I saw an archaic, meaningless institution that people used to either pacify their existential fears or wield power over others.
I wanted nothing to do with this, even though I felt very connected to the Jewish people and loved the traditions I had been sharing with my husband Michael.
So, I wandered for almost 2 years, making no personal commitment to Judaism, but living a Jewish life in my home and attending synagogue. Finally, after healing some of my wounds and wanting to make more definitive commitments in my life, I decided to resume my journey last year on Yom Kippur.
While this decision came from wanting a deeper relationship with G-d through Judaism, it was not my “aha” moment. I resumed my journey intent on firmly deciding whether or not to commit to the Jewish people. I no longer wanted to waffle, for I saw this indecision as disrespectful to the Jewish community.
Instead, my “aha” moment came from the most unlikely of sources: a Chassidic Rabbi. Anyone who knows me understands that I am both stubborn and skeptical, and also resistant of authority when it doesn’t make sense to me. I came to see the Orthodox movement as something to resist and criticize.
One day, I was searching online for lectures on Judaism and came across a Rabbi named Yonah Bookstein. I found his lectures energizing and inspiring; Yonah took seemingly mundane concepts and laws from Torah, placing them firmly in our modern world, demonstrating how they can be both practiced and meaningful. I was fascinated by this very halachicly traditional Rabbi, with a very non-traditional approach to teaching and existing.
I had the pleasure of meeting him last December, and we visited for about two hours. We had been conversing occasionally over e-mail for about a year prior, so he knew I was on the road to conversion; he was very pleased. Also knowing I was married, he asked how Michael and I met. He then asked me when we were going to have kids. I stuttered a bit, mentioning that we weren’t quite ready to have children. “Well, why not?” he said, “Having children is amongst the greatest mitvot men can fulfill.”
This seemingly small, typical moment of Jews pressuring others to have children was my “aha” moment. Here I sat across from a Chassidic Rabbi, swapping life experiences and having a great time, and he is pressuring me and my husband to have children. While many religious leaders would encourage Michael and I to never come into contact with a child, here I sat across from one concerned I had yet to parent one.
This was a profoundly healing moment for me. Even though I know most Orthodox people would not consider me a Jew, having a connection with one who has since welcomed me to the tribe is enough to confirm for me that Judaism has a place for me at the table. Rabbi Yonah prodding me about having children was a moment where I was regarded as a 1st class citizen; a stark contrast to my Catholic priest expecting me to live my life hidden in shame and wanting me to believe that G-d simply made a mistake when creating me.
I understand that Rabbi Yonah has particular halachic obligations, and might very well hold differing opinions from me on homosexuality. I have no qualms about disagreement and debate. However, I left our time together flying high, having exchanged the love of G-d’s Torah with this wonderful man, because we both looked beyond our labels and connected with one another as fellow human beings. Finding ways to truly connect with one another, I believe, is at the core of Torah’s numerous lessons.
True human connections in life are scarce, but Hashem has truly blessed me with many wonderful people, including my husband Michael, my parents Leo and Maggie Judd, my best friend Joe, and Rabbis Michael and Yonah, all of whom inspired me to grow during my journey toward the mikveh. Receiving the love and lessons of the Torah, both in study and through these relationships, has been one of the true gifts of my life. I look forward to the inspiration these gifts will provide me as I continue my life journey as a Jew.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Dvar for Shavuous
On Tuesday night, I will be giving a Dvar for Shavuous. I have been asked to speak about my “aha” moment in choosing to convert. While I had many such moments, I focused on one that I felt tied right into Shavuous and receiving the Torah. Enjoy!