Christianity, Reform Judaism & Chosen People

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I am writing this letter anonymously because since you know me, I am more comfortable asking you these questions and sharing my frustrations with Judaism anonymously. I am a Reform Jew who strives to know God. I say the morning blessings and light candles on Shabbat. I usually go to services on Saturday and attend weekly Torah study. I do not keep kosher but don’t eat pork or shellfish. I say many blessings throughout the day. So many of the prayers we say are expressing thanks for receiving the Torah and asking God to teach us Torah. Torah is primary. Yet, I study it diligently and find an exceedingly angry and vengeful God. I want to have a relationship with God but do not see that God wants a relationship with me. He seems to have an on-and-off relationship with the Jewish people, but not individuals (unless they are patriarchs or prophets.) I know you are going to say that he wants us to do the mitzvot as the basis for a relationship. But it is unlikely that I am going to do much more than I do now. I had very abusive parents and our God feels like a continuation of that… ‘Quit whining about your food or I’ll give you something to whine about…’ I was at a Christian funeral last week. I was so moved by the unconditional love that Jesus has for those who believe in him. I wish our God loved us that way. It is very tempting… I do not feel loved by our God. I feel that He is constantly judging me and I can’t win, therefore He will never love me. In Eastern religions meditation is the key to oneness with the Divine. I practice meditation (without religious content), and find that it brings me closer to a connection with God. I just don’t understand how Judaism does this. Or maybe it is only for Orthodox Jews. If this is the case, I will never be an Orthodox Jew so I can never have a relationship with our God. I don’t know if any of this makes sense. I am just very frustrated with Judaism because it does not seem to offer me a way to connect with G-d as an individual.

XX

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Dear XX,

Firstly, I would recommend doing away with your perception of Orthodox as opposed to other Jews. Let’s just look at each other as “Jews” without any labels, all one big family!

(A Jew entered a post office in December and requested 25 Chanukah stamps. The clerk answered, ‘sure, sir, what denomination’? Frustrated the Jew exclaimed, ‘oy vey, even here?! Ok, give me 10 reform, 10 conservative and 5 orthodox!!)

Although the different labels might, at times, carry some value; for the most part, they serve only as a smoke screen which masks the fact that we are all just Jews, all one family; albeit with different levels of observance. These labels often do nothing but to serve as an unnecessary wedge between us. And, in your case, these labels could erroneously be construed as a wedge between you and God Himself!

Our tradition teaches that the Almighty loves each and every Jew, regardless of their level of observance. For that reason, every Jew has a place in the world to come. This unconditional love is an outgrowth of us becoming His special, beloved children when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, cementing the covenant between God and the forefathers for all time.

God’s unconditional love for every Jew is there. It is up to us, the Jewish nation as a whole and each Jew individually, to tap into that love. We tap into it to the extent we are is willing to make the effort and, at times make the sacrifice, to do our part in the relationship. 

The important thing to always keep in mind is that in God’s eyes it’s not an “all or nothing” relationship. Any and every mitzvah, or part of a mitzvah, performed by a Jew is dear and beloved in the eyes of God.

The reason many Jews don’t understand this point, I believe, emanates from the labels we often assign to each other.  

Technically, according to the Torah, there’s no such thing as “being an Orthodox Jew”. There are just Jews period, some observing more, some less! 

There’s not an Orthodox Jew out there that has “made it”, and doesn’t have plenty to improve on! The important thing is that we all get on the same ladder and climb upwards; upwards in the fulfillment of our obligations; upward in our connection to God’s unconditional love for us, a love that he beckons us to embrace. 

I recommend you focus, firstly, on the wonderful things you are already doing. Don’t simply recite blessings; meditate upon them. Allow a blessing take a few moments. View a blessing as an opportunity to meditate on the gift you are about to receive from God; a God Who loves you and provides you with life, or an apple, or your sense of sight. A blessing is a time to focus on the love behind the God-given gift you are blessing Him for. In this way we focus on our loving relationship throughout the day, every day.

The message of love permeates our actions and prayers. The blessing we recite in the Siddur before the Shema each morning begins with, “With great love you have loved us…”, continuing describing that love, and ending with thanking God for “choosing His nation Israel, with love”. We then express our love by proclaiming God’s oneness, followed by, “and you should love your God will all your heart, soul and might”. The Shema continues by describing that love relationship. This central proclamation of a Jew, the Shema, is surrounded with and permeated by the dual expression of love between God and the Jewish people. In fact, everything we do as Jews is meant to be an expression of love and appreciation, mirroring the love He has for us. 

This is the true way we are meant to perceive our God, our observance, our essence as Jews.

If you perceive the God of the Jews as angry and vengeful, I suggest you consider amending your reading list and seek out those books and teachers who can provide you the positive insights and connection to the everlasting love of God to His children, rather than feeling the need to seek out other religions to find God’s love. The source of all belief in God began with us, including the perception and feeling of His love.

 Remember, most of what you find appealing in other religions…they ultimately learned from us!!

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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