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  • Why Judaism? Loving Kindness

    Posted on August 26th, 2010 Ruth Abusch-Magder 1 comment

    Rabbi Joseph Meszler

    As we approach the High Holidays, the question of why Judaism lurks behind many sermons and clergy conversations. This week, guest blogger, Rabbi Josesph Meszler of Temple Sinai in Sharon, MA provides an answer to that question. The author of a Facing Illness, Finding God, he draws on Jewish text and personal experience to help us understand why Judaism matters.

    When the prophet Micah told us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God,” he may have been summarizing what could be characterized as a Reform halacha. Rabbi Rami Shapiro once wrote that many of our commandments could be divided up into one of these three categories: doing justice in the world by engaging in tikkun olam, facing the inevitable pain of life through loving kindness, and walking humbly with God through our ritual observance. But it is the middle injunction, to love kindness, that I think draws more and more people to the synagogue today. The main function of our religion seems to be to help us cope.

    I believe Jewish people are looking to their Judaism as a source of solace. Healing services have become commonplace. Debbie Friedman’s Mishebeirach has long been something of an anthem. Rabbis are no longer sought after to be towering figures in robes speaking from high pulpits or deciders of halacha but rather a compassionate person with empathy. Congregants will forgive a rabbi a bad sermon; they will not do so if we are not there in their time of need. Jews today want rabbis to embody the Judaism that they need, a dependable human touch.

    My hometown rabbi, Gustav Buchdahl, once remarked to me that today people seem to look for “therapeutic Judaism.” We want our Judaism to help make us whole and to help us heal. While this refocusing of Judaism cannot be at the expense of social justice or vibrant prayer – the other two parts of the verse from Micah – I believe he is accurate in that we crave shleimut: peace of mind/wholeness/completeness. Something in our age seems broken, and we are trying mend not only our world but ourselves.

    As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I have had my own experience with illness and faith. Now completely healthy, my wife (and our colleague) Julie was once ill and had to have a scary operation. As I was sitting in the waiting room, surrounded by strangers who were preoccupied with their own thoughts, I was overflowing with anxiety. I began to pray in a way that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught – to scream silently in my mind. I didn’t know how loud thoughts could be until I was mentally screaming to God to please help my wife. It was in that moment that I needed a human touch the most, and I was fortunate that my Judaism was there for me.

    I believe the Judaism of the future is going to be as a spiritual practice, and its central function is going to be to be as a source of comfort.


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