"Don't tell God how big your storm is; tell your storm how big your God is."

I believe in God.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Faith and Strength in Hard Times

I am still hurting a ton, but I am coping marvelously by leaning on my religious faith and practice.  (I figure God, unlike my friends and family, has the endless love, caring, and strength to take whatever I dish out.)  I had an epiphany about a week ago when I realized that I cannot say my religious faith carries me through hard times if I am not acting religious during those times.


I have gone back to praying at least twice a day, and really trying for that third time.  (This means ritual prayer, not spontaneous made-up-on-the-spot stuff; yes, I do that too.  Also, the Yiddish word for praying, and the one I use in daily speech, is "davening;" that is the word you will see here from now on.)

I have upped my "required" daily Bible reading from a minimum of two chapters to a minimum of four chapters, to distract myself and give myself strength for the day.  Currently I am in the book of Proverbs.  I am almost a third of the way through (the Bible goes by fast when you read four chapters a day), but I am not sure what I think of it yet.  Proverbs was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, as was Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes).  On the one hand, Proverbs is written in a beautifully poetic fashion that sings to my soul and might just cause it to work its way into my heart and replace Jeremiah as my favorite Biblical book; on the other, right left and center, Proverbs is disparaging towards women, outright calling them evil, wicked, cunning, etc.  That's hard to take.

Having finished Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (I didn't like it after all), I am now patiently working my way through the 120-or-so page introduction to Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed.  I am almost done; I have fewer than five pages left, and then I can begin on the text itself.  I'm still shooting for an hour a day, though oftener it's half an hour and sometimes I don't read at all.  It's the summer; I picked this project up solely to keep myself from getting bored; I'm not being too strict about it.  If I don't finish this work by the time I go back to school, I will borrow both volumes (yes, it's that long!) to read in the early morning before I get to schoolwork or class, right before bed, and on Sabbath afternoons.  I don't know if I'll also bring back Heschel's God in Search of Man or not; for one thing, I don't know if my parents will let me (though we do have two copies, so maybe...), and for another, I don't know if I'll want to.

By the way, I noticed yesterday or the day before that I am the proud owner of seven, count them seven, works of Jewish philosophy/theology that I have aquired over the years.  They are:

  1. Theological-Political Treatise by Baruch de Spinoza, first published in the 1600s.  (I can't find an exact publication date,  but Spinoza lived from 1632 to 1677.)  This one is not exactly Jewish given that Spinoza was the first Jew to be excommunicated and not come back or become Christian, but we read it in my Jewish Philosophy class last semester, and the professor told us that all Jewish philosophy ever after was in response to this work, so I am counting it.
  2. The River of Light: Spirituality, Judaism, Consciousness by Lawrence Kushner, first published in 1981.  I love, love, LOVE this book! It might be my favorite Jewish book ever, although anything by Neil Gillman (I'll list his books later) runs a close second.  I first read this book early in my high school career, when I was undeniably way too young for it.  I read it again when I was a high school upperclassman, and again in college; I plan to read it again soon.  This book is so complex that I get something new out of it every time I read it, and it is beautifully written.  That is why I love it so.
  3. Halakhic Man by Joseph Soloveitchik.  The edition I have was published in 1983, but the first translation to English was done in 1979, and Soloveitchik wrote the book in Hebrew, under the title Ish ha-Halakhah, in 1944.  I put this book on my summer reading list for two reasons.  First, I had skimmed it (I was supposed to actually read it, but I didn't have time...you know how that goes ;-) ) for class and thought I liked it.  Secondly, whenever an Orthodox Jew hears that I'm reading Jewish philosophy/theology, they tell me to start with Soloveitchik.  I thought I had better read something by him and see what all the fuss was about.  The end result? I didn't like it.  Soloveitchik sounds like your typical Orthodox Rabbi; his basic premise is that "Halakhic man" is different from your typical "homo religiosus" purely by virtue of being Jewish.  That "Jewish superiority" complex is not an idea I buy into.  Additionally, Soloveitchik is supposedly a Modern Orthodox Rabbi, but because of the time period in which he was writing, I find his work dated and stilted.
  4. The Way Into Encountering God in Judaism, by Neil Gillman (who taught my father in Rabbinical school), published in 2000.  This is the first work of Jewish theology that I ever read, and the one that got me hooked on the topic.  It is quite possibly part of the reason why I want to become a Rabbi.  This book is divided by topic.  The topics include things like "God is Power," "God is Nice (Sometimes)," "God is Not Nice (Sometimes)," "God Can Change," etc.  It's a little too basic for where I am now, but I still turn back to it on occasion, and I used it (along with Lawrence Kushner [see number 2]) in my Rabbinical school application essays.
  5. Doing Jewish Theology, by Neil Gillman, published 2008.  This book was my Hannukah gift a year and a half ago.  I asked for a Jewish book; my parents knew I had read this one and loved it, so they decided it was a safe bet and they bought me my own copy.  The book is divided into three sections: "God," "Torah," and "Israel."  It's a harder read than my other Gillman book (see number 4), more suited to my level now.
  6. Radical Judaism, by Arthur Green, published in 2010.  This is another book that I bought for my Jewish Philosophy class.  It was OK.  I did not like it as much as Green's other book, Seek My Face, Speak My Name.  That is a book I voluntarily picked up on my own two or three times, though I never finished it.  Also, I never can get into Green as I can Gillman (see numebrs 4 and 5) or Kushner (see numebr 2).  Still, I rate Radical Judaism as a decent read.
  7. And last but not least...The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition, by David Hartman, published in 2011.  This book was a Jewish Life Award from my high school; as such, it will always be precious to me.  As a work of Jewish theology, it's all right, nothing special.  I rate it about the same as Radical Judaism (see number 6), though it is very different in tone and content.  Hartman considers himself a Modern Orthodox Rabbi; Green is much more liberal, I think Reconstructionist, though I am not 100 percent sure.

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I am a bipolar, Jewish young adult (had my Hebrew birthday, the one I count, and turned 23 this past January) who also suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. I love life and I live for my best friends: they are my purpose and my reason for trying so hard. I remain passionately devoted to those I love; I will not let my disorders make me totally self-centered. I like to read, write, and sew. My Rabbinical school plans did not work out, and I am now hoping to go into the field of Early Childhood Education. Please note: I am currently maintaining only Carried in His Hands. Enjoy!