A few days ago in a joint post Rabbi Renee Goldberg Edelman and I each shared our views on the mystery of God.
At the time of our posts Rabbi Edelman wrote me that she had tried mightily, but there was nothing she could do to remove a strange series of random letters, numbers and other characters that appeared at the end of our post. “OK, no big deal,” I replied.
Yesterday when I checked on our joint posting I found to my delight that Rabbi Edelman had magically transformed the collection of markings into a large beautiful question mark.
Today I see that question mark not as a nice decoration but as the main point both of us are trying to get across. We believe in God, but we still have lots of questions and doubts. The goal is to continue to ask them and struggle with them.
In a speech I heard several years ago Rabbi Harold Schulweis spoke of the phenomena of young people who become Ba’alay Teshuvah. The term describes those who were secular or who had even viewed Judaism with disdain. Somehow, though, they “saw the light” and became Orthodox Jews. They would describe their transformation as saying they chozrim b’ teshuvah, they “return in repentance” from the lives they had previously led. The word teshuvah also means, “answer.”
Much more meaningful, continued Schulweis, than “returning with the answer,” is to become chozrim b’she’elah, those who “return with the question.” The ideal is not for us to simply accept Orthodox belief and adopt Orthodox practice. The goal is to take our Judaism very seriously and struggle with it. We should freely question everything! But we should also infuse our lives with acts that affirm and re-enforce our Jewish identity and ideals.
The word Yisrael, Israel, does not mean one who believes in God or one who knows about God. It means, “one who struggles with God!” There can be no greater area of uncertainty than the nature of God, and faced with that uncertainty we have three options:
- Become Orthodox in our belief and practice.
- Discard religion because we can’t imagine a just God ruling over a world with as much evil in it as ours.
- Continue to ask and struggle with the questions that trouble us and try our best — with Jewish rituals and observances as inspiration –- to live up to the ideals of ethical conduct our Torah teaches the world.
Clearly Rabbi Edelman and I choose option three, and that is why I find her beautiful question mark such a perfect way to punctuate the messages we shared on the mystery of God.