You Shall Pursue

May 24, 2012

Works, Faith, and Why I Don’t Eat Shrimp Any More

Filed under: Spirituality — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 2:48 am

Last weekend, I was at a party, talking to a Catholic guy. My future vocation came up in the conversation, and he was fascinated, as non-Jews often are. He had LOTS of questions for me. One of which was the difference why Jews placed so much of an emphasis on laws while Christianity focuses more on “faith.” I take questions like these VERY seriously, because usually, answering them will lead me to discover more about the reasons why I am practicing Judaism in the way that I have chosen to practice (also, because I will talk about Judaism ALL DAY if given the option).

I spoke to him about Covenant. The fact that the rabbis teach that every Jewish soul stood at Sinai and affirmed the giving of the Torah. That we, as a people, reaffirm that covenant every time we pray or go without eating bacon. Just as Christians pray and give their souls over to Christ in hopes of divine redemption after death, so do we as Jews reaffirm our covenant and seek to redeem the world that is.

Here’s the thing. I don’t actually believe that not eating pork is “cleaner” than eating it. Hell, bacon is delicious! I also don’t believe that God will smite me if I don’t keep the Sabbath, or that I won’t be written into the Book of Life if I don’t fast on fast days. I don’t even really believe in an afterlife. But I do believe deeply, truly, really in God, and God’s power, and God’s love for me. Since I believe that there is only here and now, I seek to construct my life as a love letter of sorts to God. And part of that is obeying the arbitrary rules that the Torah and Talmud et. al. have laid out for living a uniquely Jewish life.

Here’s what Buber had to say on the subject:

Here [in the highest form of knowledge of God] the Thou appeared to the man out of deeper mystery, addressed him even out of the darkness, and he responded with his life. Here the word has from time to time become life, and this life is teaching… This life is presented, then, to those who come later, to teach them not what is and must be, but how life is lived in the spirit, face to face with the Thou.

In other words, according to Buber, man does not come to knowledge of God through study, or through creating art, but rather through the sheer unadulterated balls-out bliss of living. My former teacher, Rabbi Neil Gillman, compared the I Thou relationship to bringing home flowers to your wife. There is nothing inherently great about flowers. They serve no absolute purpose, except for the purpose of creating joy and seeing it dance on your wife’s face.

For similar reasons, I gave up pork and shellfish, not because of any inherent moral value in giving these things up, but because every time I decline eating pork, I am reminded that I am in sacred relationship with the Divine. That relationship is ongoing, and a little bit arbitrary, and annoying at times, just like any loving relationship. But it shapes and defines my life in a very real and potent way. It shapes the rhythm of my week and of my year, and it brings me into a constant reminder that I am obligated to God not only in acts of prayer and morality, but in every step I take, and every morsel that I put into my mouth.

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