Before writing silently for 60 minutes, the participants in my Shut Up and Write! group talk about what they’re planning to write. This week, I explained that as my part in pushing against the rise of antisemitism and anti-Zionism—in addition to my aching howl to FREE THE HOSTAGES and my plea for people to stop being motivated by hate—I plan on sharing a Jewish learning.
It feels right to be Jewish publicly, showing that Judaism is a way of being that encourages the individual to constantly improve the self and the world around you, where empathy and concern for the other are motivating factors and that this religion, philosophy, culture, people—this way of being that has been around for over 3,000 years—is not something to chant against or accuse of horrors.
I was drawn back to a quote I heard in the Mussar class that I’m taking. (Mussar is a virtues-based approach to Jewish ethics and character development.) This quote by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l, from To Heal a Fractured World, focused my pre-writing musings.
“Each of us is here for a purpose. Discerning that purpose takes time and honesty, knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of the world, but it is there to be discovered. Each of us has a unique constellation of gifts, an unreplicated radius of influence, and within that radius, be it as small as a family or as large as a state, we can be a transformative presence. Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be. Even the smallest good deed can change someone’s life.”
Not only does this conceptualize the idea that we’re always where we need to be, but it helps me perceive each moment—each circumstance—as an opportunity for growth, to be more fully me. The idea that we must continually work on ourselves, combined with understanding that we are always at our appointed place, means that there is never an excuse to not try to be my best or even to find fulfillment in the simplest of moments. This moment—each moment—is not a mistake: it is a stepping-stone within a life.
Contemplating that quote, I keep returning to, we are “where God wants us to be.”
What does that mean? Am I (this human, this spark), on my own, or is there a current upon which our lives—each of our lives—flows? Is this the concept of God that can help me understand the idea of God that has been so elusive?
Which reminds me of something else that I read recently. In Jewish with Feeling, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, says, “Think of God not as the subject of your sentence, who is or is not this or that, but as the is-ing, the very process of being itself.” He went on to talk about not using the word God but to think of how we each are enlivened or en-spirited to live our lives.
As I looked over my highlighting in his book, another idea stood out.
“Nothing we can say about God will survive the rigors of logical analysis. But that shouldn’t get in the way of our search for the presence we have felt in our most spiritually open—or spiritually hungry—moments. If there is a tension between what we know in our minds and what we feel in our hearts, then let’s stay with that tension. If there is a contradiction, let us take it upon ourselves. Only let us press on with our desire to experience the numinous and serve the patterns of the universe in a deeper, more meaningful way.”
And finally, “That part of us that always seeks to awaken even more, I call soul. Judaism speaks of the soul as a spark of God.”
The concept of an eternal, spiritual energy or force, stripped of the anthropomorphic man-in-the-sky imagery, appeals to me—speaks to the essence that is. The something within that wonders about the connections between people—the strings that seem to draw us together in coincidences and circumstances as we go about our lives—prefers to contemplate the “patterns of the universe” rather than that we are disconnected individuals stumbling around. It seems so much more correct, so much more of a way to consider our own purpose because in this case, purpose is not merely survival. It is to be, as Rabbi Sacks said, “a transformative presence.”
To be within the presence, the fertile soil, comforts me and challenges me. I do not want to wither. I want to use the nutrients that I am given to “serve the patterns of the universe in a deeper, more meaningful way.”
With this perception of God, this force, this is-ing, I can cry out for the pain that others experience and believe that there is a gathering of life forces that has an impact, has meaning. And to that I say, amen.