Elster's World

Thursday, September 25, 2008

On Faith

Chana at The Curious Jew has quite a blog post up about her struggles as a Jew . It's very long post, and I'm certainly not doing it any favors by putting its essence into one line, but what I took of it is basically her struggle to be an individual in a religion that requires a large amount of conformity to basic ideals. There is very little wriggle room for you to have beliefs outside of those ideals. There's much more to it, but that's the main theme that ELSTER took away. Feel free to read it and form your own theme.

I have thought alot about the struggle of Individual vs. Jew. That's not exactly what I'm going to write about here. In short though, I've heard Rabbonim speak about the fact that there is room for individuality in Judaism and in fact, one should use their individual talents (assuming you have any) to serve God. It's a nice sentiment and if you don't study on it too hard, I guess it's an answer to the issue.

But Chana's post thrust a larger issue into my head. In my comment response, I noted that it is my belief that most Jews struggle with issues of faith at some point or another in their lives. Many simply aren't intellectually honest enough to deal with it. They simply shove it to that dark place inside themselves where you put all those things you don't like dwelling on and let it simmer there until death.

Do I believe in God? You bet. But why? And to what extent? What does it even mean to believe in God? These are much harder questions to answer.

I was brought up in an observant home where no one ever questioned Judaism's principles or beliefs. They existed, we followed them, end of story. As I get older, I find nothing in life is as black and white as my parents taught me. Maybe it's better for things to be black and white, it's certainly a lot simpler to not have to study the other side, but I digress.

Joe and I have touched on this issue in our emails and live discussions. If an infant dies, or a young child, or a married man or woman universally held to be a wonderful human being, it's certainly "God's Will". But how does God's will fit into the teaching of a fair and just god? How can it ever be considered FAIR for a 3 week old baby to die of SIDS? How is it just? We comfort a mourner that her 7 year old son's death is part of Hashems' plan which we simply do not understand. And while I believe this to be the case (the idea that the world is simply a random continuum of events is too scary for me to even contemplate), I feel it's cold comfort at best.

So many questions to which there are no satisfactory answers. Did dinosaurs exist? I say they did. Many Rabbonim will argue they did not. Does anyone really believe their bones are here as a grand test? Am I failing as a proper Jew because I believe something that is not well accepted in the Jewish faith?

I have failings. Many. As I grow older, I am more willing to see the other side of things. less rigid. If homosexuality is something that is inherent in you, something literally put inside some people BY God, how can we simply say to them suck it up? How can that be a fair test for anyone?

I once met a very, very smart person who went off the derech. Her reasons were a combination of a bad chareidi high school experience as well as the fact that there were simply too many questions that she couldn't answer. Stock answers simply do not work for everyone. Neither does the maxim that "this is the way it is so don't question it". For intellectuals and others who like to use their brains, sometimes this doesn't fly. Not everyone will be willing to make the Leap of Faith.

We are taught that the rabbonim exist on another plane - that their teachings are almost literally the word of Hashem and we cannot think of them as mere mortals like the rest of us. We cannot ascribe to them the same failings that we have. They do not suffer from temptation, lust, greed or more simply, lack of knowledge. But when Rabbonim over extend their Gedarim, their fences, to the point of insanity - when they ban Jewish music concerts and wholesale internet bans, when they protect child molesters and the like, when they use their influence to keep families together that would actually be better off apart, how can I look at them as those of a higher order? Have I failed as a Jew?

I remember this past Erev Pesach i drove to Brooklyn to catch a Shiva Shacharis. My plan was to go early so I would have plenty of time to burn chometz and prepare for Pesach. A Garmin screwup put me on the wrong side of Brooklyn and as I raced to get to davening on time, I got stuck behind not one, but 2 garbage trucks making pickups on streets too narrow to pass or back up. I remember thinking to myself, exasperated, "I try to do a mitzvah, I try to do the right thing, and THIS is my reward?"

What's my absolute defining proof that God exists? The world around us, it's natural beauty but the variety of beauty in its different parts. The almost perfect machine that is the human body - the intelligence in humans. The animals. These things cannot have been created by pure chance. Even if you hold from the Big bang, the big bang had to have a switch thrower behind it.

Maybe you think this is a silly reason for belief. That's ok with me. I have believed in sillier things for sillier reasons. For example, I believed that firing Willie Randolph would suddenly make the bullpen better and look how that turned out.

Ani maamin B'emunah Sh'leima - these are the words we say. Our belief is to be a perfect one. Whole in every way without even the hint of doubt. We are asked as Jews to give ourselves totally and completely over to something we cannot see, cannot hear or feel. we are asked as Jews to conform to these ideas. we are encouraged to not question them in schools. Is there any wonder why people who have had more ....radical shall we say strains of religion foisted upon them their whole lives suddenly turn off the derech? Are we to be surprised by this?

Ok - I feel as though I have rambled on enough about this issue - especially since my audience has dwindled down to Jewboy. so let me wrap it up with the reason I've written this all out. Yomim Noraim are almost upon us. next week is Rosh Hashana, followed by Yom Kippur. In recent years I find it increasingly difficult to daven on these days with the same intensity and fear i had when I was younger. It's not like I have less to ask for or I did less sinning this year. Rather, I feel I have opened the door in my head to too many new ideas - that I've lost some of my spark that I used to have. I thought that maybe spelling it all out would help get me closer to where i need to be.

So thanks for keeping the faith.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Innocence Lost

Confusion was the first reaction. Confusion as to how a small plane could possibly have hit the trade center tower. Even more confusion when the second plane hit. "What do you mean a plane hit the other tower?", I remember asking. "What are the odds that 2 planes could randomly hit the tower like that???"

And then it hit me. It wasn't random at all. America had been attacked.

In the hours that followed, the confusion only grew. 10 more planes were unaccounted for. The Pentagon was hit. A plane crashed in Pennsylvania. The White House was a target. More planes unaccounted for.

And then came the fear. I called my dad desperately seeking news of my brother in law, who worked in the towers. Thankfully, he was one of those lawyers who liked to go into work late. He was ok, actually in Brooklyn in my dad's office.

From there, surreal. My friend and Iwalked south towards lower Manhattan, to give blood. But the lines were so long, they told us to come back another day. We saw people covered in white - realizing only later they were covered in ashes.

We prepared for a long walk back to Riverdale, but amazingly, the railroad was running and we were home by 2:00 or so. We spent all day watching coverage on the news.

Everyone who was in the City that day has a story. Mine is nothing compared to those who died, those who lost loved ones. My cousin, a Hatzalah EMT who ran down to help, was buried in an ambulance for like an hour, covered in the fallen tower. That's a story.

But my retelling of my own little tale is my way of remembering the day New York, and America too, lost its innocence - September 11.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Big Sunday

I'm writing this post with one out in the 8th inning of a huge game for the Mets. Santana has just been pulled for Feliciano in a must win (in my opinion ) game. Coming into this series my only thought was this "don't get swept". I had no grandiose plans for a 3 game sweep by the Mets. That would simply be too easy. Rather - don't get swept. But after a tough loss Friday night and a bad loss Sunday afternoon, getting swept was suddenly a real possibility.


And there came another big game performance from Santana - 7.1 innings, 2 runs on 5 hits. ERA at Shea - 1.99 in 15 starts. Big game outing from a big game pitcher. Huge game too from Delgado, whose 4 RBI are currently powering the Mets lead. This is a must win for the Mets and let's see if they can hold on.

Earlier in the day, the Jets gave an uneven opening performance in their win over the Dolphins.


The Jet coaching staff cannot seem to play with a lead. They become ultra conservative on both sides of the ball. Favre is so different than the Jet QB's of recent past that it will take some time to get used to his high risk, high reward style of play. His bomb to Cotchery was something missing from the Jet offense for years. Jones ran well behind his line and Pace, Jenkins, Bryan Thomas, Reevis and Lowery really stood out. Mike Nugent also stood out but for all the wrong reasons.

Lets hope the Mets hold on for one more inning.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Jets Prediction

I saw Joe's 8-8 prediction and his bad feeling regarding Favre. I disagree. Yes, it may take a while for all the new players to jell but in reality, the jets are probably going 2-2 in their first 4 no matter what. After that, the schedule isn't exactly a killer.

I expect Favre to play and play well - I expect the running game to be better (thanks to Favre and the offensive line pickups) and I expect the defense to be much better. That and a relatively easy schedule (only 2 Pat games, the San Diego game and maybe the Seattle game are definite losses) should produce a 10 win season.