This column tracks the e-mail correspondence between two friends. David is twenty-something,single, and non-observant. Ari is thirty-something, married with kids, and a baíal teshuvah (returnee to traditional Torah observance). The younger friend is at a time in his life when he is looking for ďmoreĒ (i.e. seeking spiritual growth and personal development) and generally writes to his older friend in search of advice. The older friend tries to provide useful and solid advice by drawing on the Torah portion of that week.
By Lawrence Stroll
It must be that time of year again. As you know Iíve been pretty much attending this beginnerís service every Saturday at my synagogue. As of late, Iíve become a little lax and havenít been showing up on time (if at all). I started asking myself why, and the more I think about it, the more ephemeral a lot of what Iím doing seems. Iím not a Moses, and to the best of my knowledge Iíve never had a conversation with G-d. I canít see him, I canít taste him, and to be honest, I have difficulty feeling him (in any sense of the word). How can I be sure he sees me? And, what difference is the fact that Iím attending services make to him? Iím not throwing in the towel, but would appreciate any motivational words of encouragement.
Sincerely, Questioning my beliefs
Join the club! As someone who has been attending prayer services three times a day for many years, and trying to make most of praying at the times when services are being held, I can empathize with your doubts. And if weíre going to be honest with each other, let me say that itís not just prayer. Every single commandment a Jew performs that does not have a relatively immediate earthly visible effect is open to the question of whether Hashem is aware of what is being done, and whether it matters. But, fear not! As we learn in this weekís Torah portion, the Big Guy is not just aware of whatís going on in the world; He is personally paying attention to all that we do.
Hashem instructs Moses and Aaron as to how the final plague will be carried out and how they and the Jewish people should conduct themselves. Rashi asks a profound question regarding the instruction to take the blood of the Paschal lamb and place it on the side of the doorposts of the houses in which Jewish people are living. Why does Hashem indicate that through this act, He will see the blood and thereby be able to distinguish between an Israelite and an Egyptian? Doesnít Hashem see everything? Of course he does, answers Rashi. G-d is telling us that He is taking note that we are occupied in the performance of His commandments. And because we are, He will pass over us when he comes to slay the firstborn Egyptians.
While I cannot strengthen your belief in Hashem, since a great deal of that comes from within, I can say that through practicing the commandments and learning and seeking to understand the Torah, rather than just reading the Torah, oneís sense of the Almightyís presence is heightened.
Imagine that you have an infection. Something bothers you and you just donít feel right. You see the doctor and she prescribes an antibiotic. You take this for a few days and forget about it. In a short while you feel better. And by the time that occurs, youíre up and running, feeling great, and certainly not conscious of how the antibiotic worked on your system. Wouldnít it have been a disservice to have discontinued the medicine after four hours of taking it, simply because you didnít feel better?
Have you ever heard of the benefits of a low cholesterol diet? Folks who have suffered a heart attack that can be traced to elevated blood cholesterol levels are very sensitive to these benefits. They usually can be seen "enjoying" a new diet that, in and of itself, would not necessarily be described as a delicious or yummy. But if you ever catch up with one of those people 25 years later, after theyíve danced at a couple of their kidsí weddings and have been enjoying the benefits of a physically improved lifestyle for all those previous years, what do you think they would tell you about their low cholesterol diet?
In many ways, Hashem has prescribed a particular diet to ail our seemingly OK spiritual inner-child. Just because you canít feel it working, donít think itís not. Trust me on this one! The Almighty personally cares about you David, and He is taking full account of all your efforts regarding his spiritually prescribed diet.
Lawrence Stroll is a financial planner and Family Wealth Counselor with Geller Financial Advisors in Atlanta.
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