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JEWISH SPIRITUALITY

04/06/2015 08:18:00 AM

Apr6

JEWISH SPIRITUALITY
Yom Kippur 1995
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

They say that Jews like ice cream come in 31 flavors. There are synagogue Jews, Federation Jews, Zionist Jews, universalistic Jews, cultural Jews, delicatessen Jews, cardiac Jews (Jewish in the heart), gastronomic Jews (of the belly), and many more.

The denomination divide us into four: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist. And as one pundit puts it: It really doesn't matter what you are, as long as you're ashamed of it.

According to an old wisdom, there are three kinds of Jews. All that divides us are our accents. The believer recites, "Sh'ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Ehad." The atheist recites, "Sh'ma Yisrael, I deny Eloheynu, I deny Ehad." The agnostic recites, "Sh'ma Yisrael, I don't know Eloheynu, I don't know Ehad." As we reach the end of the century, there is a growing consensus that our denominational labels matter very little. No longer Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, there are really only two kinds of Jews: serious Jews, and non-serious Jews. Serious Jews belong. They participate. They contribute. They learn. Most of all, they take the continuity and survival of the Jewish people as a personal concern. A Jew, in Adin Steinsaltz's now-famous definition, is anyone worried about whether his or her grandchildren will be Jewish. The non-serious comprise that huge population, perhaps 80% here in Los Angeles, that have no connection. They don't belong, don't contribute, they don't care. Religion, taught Abraham Joshua Heschel, is the answer to a question. But if you don't ask the question, the answer is irrelevant to you. The Pesach Seder describes four children, four kinds of Jews: The wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who cannot ask. But they are all at the table. Even the wicked who excludes himself, is at the table, and asking a question. Even the one who cannot ask, is at the table. The non-serious Jew doesn't come to the table, he doesn't ask.

These aren't Jews for Jesus or any other faith. They are uninterested spiritual life. They are what Dennis Prager once called, Jews for Real Estate. What's left of their Judaism? Maybe bagels and lox. Perhaps a few Yiddishism. But we've been in America long enough now that even the ethnic memories are gone. A generation ago, most everyone still had a Bubby who made Kreplach, a Zeyde who could lead a Seder, a Tanta Sarah who pinched your cheeks too hard and smelled of Jewish history. Now, Grandmothers teach aerobic classes, Grandfathers play golf, and General Colin Powell speaks more Yiddish than most American Jews.

Then there is a third group: Jews who have left Judaism, but have left in search of something. Seekers. You'll find them in every spiritual movement, every meditation community, every metaphysical society, and all the 12-step groups -- Jewish Buddhists, Jewish Sufis, Jewish Hindus, Jewish Wicans, Jewish Scientologists, and Jewish Christians. Adherents of the Dali Lama, Ram Dass and Depack Chopra. By one estimate, 30% of the practicing Buddhists in the United States were born Jewish. They are part of a wide-spread phenomenon which is particularly popular among the Baby-Boomer generation: A search for meaning, for spirituality. A third of the books listed on the New York Times best seller list deal with spiritual pursuits -- The Celestine Prophecy, 7 Spiritual Laws of Success, Care of the Soul, a host of books on angels, and after-life experiences. A recording of Gregorian chants by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos is now the fifth biggest selling album of all time. There is a daily talk show on NBC dealing with spiritual experiences -- healing, visitations, prophecy. We're seeing a spiritual awakening in this country, and Jews are at its center.

I meet these people all the time. Actually, I meet their parents first. Parents, family members, are confused. They don't know what to make of it. They feel betrayed. And they come with no small amount of anger and pain: I know he's looking for something, rabbi. I know she's searching. But why couldn't they find it in Judaism? Why do they have to go outside? Why did they reject us? Betrayed us, our values, our home, our traditions? Why have they left? The people I talk to are very open, very up-front. Their reason range from the most ideological to the most personal: Judaism, they tell me, is patriarchal, male-centered, misogynist. The Jewish God is a male projection -- aggressive, exclusive, angry, violent. The liturgy excludes women, the insights of women, the experiences of women. So you don't have a physical mehitza, they protest, women are still pushed away as strange, as inferior, as contaminated.

Jews, they tell me, are materialist, the worst examples of the bourgeois values -- aggressively pursuing wealth, defining themselves by their possessions, pressuring their children with crushing stress to conform to a narrow, middle class version of success and self-worth.

They tell me that the synagogue, is obsessed with money. Those with money get the rabbi's attention, those without languish in the back somewhere. You interrupt the holiest day of the year to ask for money. The building is covered wall-to-wall with plaques. It's a good thing the Torah is a scroll or it too would bear a plaque.

The services, I am told, are dull, perfunctory -- rites celebrated with studied, elegant decorum but empty of meaning and spirit. Bar Mitzvahs celebrating, not a child's growth, but a family's conspicuous and tasteless materialism. Boring boring boring lifeless, flaccid, dull.

I came looking for a connection to a community, rabbi, and all I found was cold formality. I came looking for wisdom. And all I got was a plateful of guilt, judgmental arrogance and derision. I came looking for a connection to God. And all I found were idols.

There was a teacher in Hebrew school years ago: Cold, indifferent, unimaginative, uninspired, shallow, cruel. A rabbi whose sermonic repertoire comprised only one note: guilt, shame, castigation, accusation.

My home had all the requisite Jewish symbols, they tell me. A Hannuka menorah, a Seder plate, Shabbat candles. But something was missing. We'd light the candles to get the presents. We'd race through the Seder...we'd sing the four questions, and the fifth was always, "So, when do we eat?" It's like we were doing it for someone else's sake, my grandfather -- fool the old guy into thinking there were still Jews in this family, or to appease some long dead relative. But not for us. Certainly not to touch anything inside of us.

And then, in the end rabbi, do you know what my parents said? They said that I'd better not come home with a shiksa, a shaygetz. Even a convert to Judaism isn't good enough. And if I married a goy, I would be betraying them and everything they stood for. Suddenly they found passion. Suddenly they found something Jewish to fight for. Not Israel. Not love of God. Not learning of Torah -- do you think they ever read the Torah, rabbi? Do you think we ever owned a Bible? No. What got my parents excited, rabbi? Exclusion. Disdain. Racism. The only thing that makes us Us, is that we're not Them.

Tell me, rabbi, who has betrayed who? Who has rejected who? Who walked out on who?

I've heard all this, and more. And do you want to know something? They're absolutely right.

But what's interesting, what's important, is that these are all Jewish questions, Jewish issues. What we have here is a generation of Jews who have left Judaism, for Jewish reasons, good Jewish reasons. These accusations, and the expectations they are based on, where do they come from? They come from Jewish hearts, that have been broken. They come from a Jewish conscience, which has been violated. They come from deep within a Jewish soul which has been wounded.

If they didn't care. If they didn't still feel something, some connection, then they wouldn't bother to answer my question. "Why did I leave? Because I felt like it." If this weren't still a Jewish thing, then their answers wouldn't come with so much emotion, so much passion. And let me tell you, these are never quiet, cool, unemotional conversations. There's shouting, there are tears, because this is still in the family. Because they are still in the family.

And that's the tragedy of their leaving us. It's not that we need numbers. As Prof. Jacob Neusner quipped, "we're not in a race with the Chinese." We need them -- we need the seekers and the searchers -- we need their anger, and their creativity, we need their hunger for spirit and their thirst for community, we need Jews who seek with all their hearts a connection to God, and we need Jews who demand Godliness in the institutions and movements, who demand passion in their rabbis and teachers, Jews who demand poetry in prayer and wisdom in learning and depth in ritual. In past generations, these were the revolutionaries, the souls on fire, who brought new life to Judaism, new meaning to Torah, new visions of God. They were the Hasidim of Eastern Europe, the Mystics of Safed, the poets of Jewish Spain, the weavers of Midrash of the Talmud, the prophets of the Bible.

I know you're here today. I know your families dragged you because it's Yom Kippur. And I'm glad you're here because I want you to know that we miss you and we need you. And I want you to hear just one more thing.

The Judaism you were taught was not real Judaism. The Judaism that turned you away was a narrow, inauthentic likeness of a great spiritual tradition. It was a tortured and twisted version of Judaism. Twisted by centuries of hatred and oppression and suffering that ultimately forced our grandparents and great-grandparents to come to America. Twisted by their frenetic effort to become Americans -- to find a place here, to build a home, their greatest dream: to be accepted. And there was nothing they weren't prepared to sacrifice for that. What was the old joke? Zeyde wanted me to grow up and become, of all things, a marine archaeologist. Why a marine archaeologist? So I could dive to the bottom of New York harbor, just beyond the Statue of Liberty, and recover all the t'fillin, and all the tallis's, and all the prayer books tossed there by the arriving immigrants. Do you have any idea what treasures of spirit were tossed overboard, or abandoned back in the crowded flats of the Lower East Side, when the family move upward and outward to attain suburban comfort?

Yours was a Judaism ultimately wrenched out of shape by the Holocaust -- twisted by anger and defeat and pain. You heard nothing about God in your Jewish upbringing because, after the Holocaust, it was an embarrassment to speak of God. It was agony to speak of God. The place where God once kept in the Jewish heart, was now filled with pain. And that formed the syllabus of your Jewish upbringing: The lachrymose curriculum, a history of endless oppression, the legacy of Jewish pain: Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Christian Inquisitors, Cossack pogroms, Nazis, Nazis, Nazis. You never learned the genius of Akiba and Maimonides. You never learned the compassion of Hillel and the Baal Shem Tov. You never met the soaring imagination of Rav Isaac Luria or the relentless radicalism of the Kotzker Rebbe. No, instead you learned about Haman, Pharaoh, Antiochus, Nebuchadnezer, Titus, Hadrian, Torquemada, Chelmnitzky, and Hitler and Eichmann. Not love of God, but anger at the Other. Not a celebration of life, but a commemoration of suffering. A twisted Judaism.

When I was a student, I taught Hebrew school to earn my tuition money. And I remember one Sunday morning, as lessons finished and parents came to pick kids up; I was in my classroom cleaning up, when I overheard a conversation: A father came to pick up his kid. The father asks the kid how was class. And the kid looks up at the father and says, "I hate Hebrew School. It's boring, it's stupid, the teachers are mean, the kids aren't nice, I hate it and I don't want to go any more." The father stops, pushes the kid up against the wall and says to him, "Look, kid, I went to Hebrew School when I was your age, and I hated it, it was boring, the teachers were mean, the kids weren't nice, but they made me go, and now, you're going to go to Hebrew School too."

I said to myself, "Now there's a father who values Jewish education!" But on second thought, I'm taken aback. What a tragedy. What a catastrophe. To have raised a generation of kids who associate Judaism with coercion, with boredom, with emptiness.

There's a name for this. When our grandparents described the suffering of Jews, the pain of the Jewish people, they would remark, "Shver Tzu Zeiner Yid." It's hard to be a Jew. Being a Jew was your unquestioned destiny, your fate. But the world made it so difficult, so painful. In twisting and torturing of Judaism, we've turned this around. It's no longer a description. It has become prescription. "Shver Tzu Zeiner Yid." To be authentically Jewish, it must be hard, painful, difficult. No chrain, no gain. And if it's not painful, it must not be real.

A friend of mine is a convert to Judaism, a Jew by choice. And a wonderful, deeply religious Jewish person. She was invited by the local Federation to speak to a committee interested in figuring out how to do outreach to converts in the community. She makes her statement, and then the committee members asked questions:

-- "You say that you keep a kosher home. Don't you find that difficult in this day and age?"

-- "No," she replies, "these days, with new labeling of packages, it's actually getting easier."

-- "Well, certainly, you find it very expensive."

-- "No, not really," she responds, "you just shop wisely."

-- "Well, doesn't it severely restrict what you can eat?"

-- "Perhaps, but it brings to my kitchen and to my home a level of sanctity and Godliness that it precious to me."

-- "Well, obviously, you don't keep strictly kosher!"

"Shver Tzu Zeiner Yid." If it doesn't hurt, it's not really Jewish. Twisted Judaism. I once gave a talk in a synagogue, on a Shabbat morning. A lady came over afterwards and said, "Rabbi, I enjoyed your talk so much, I had such a good time, I forgot I was in shul." The most important book of American Judaism ever written is Mordechai Kaplan's Judaism as a Civilization, written in 1934. The first line of that book is: "Once Jews accepted Judaism as a privilege, now they regard it as a burden."

This is twisted. Perhaps the strangest phenomenon of twisted Judaism are Jews who themselves are far from Orthodox, far from observance or tradition, but for whom the only real Judaism is Orthodox Judaism. I have this in my own family. I have an uncle, God bless him. He lives in New Jersey. And whenever I'd visit, he'd give me this terrible hard time. How can you be a Conservative Rabbi? How can you make women rabbis? How can you make so many changes? I used to get so frustrated. Uncle Henry, you don't even go to shul, what do you care? And then one day it finally occurred to me...Uncle Henry doesn't go to shul. But the shul Uncle Henry doesn't go to is an Orthodox shul. He wouldn't not go to a Conservative or Reform synagogue! Uncle Henry doesn't keep kosher. But the Kosher Uncle Henry doesn't keep is Glatt Kosher, not my kind of kosher.

This is a twisted, tortured, contorted Judaism. I understand why you've gone elsewhere to find God. I understand why you rejected a joyless, shallow, lifeless Judaism. But the tragedy is that you've also rejected the deep traditions of Jewish wisdom and Jewish imagination; the spiritual path that is Judaism. There is a Judaism you were never taught: A Judaism that begins with the inner life the individual, your neshama, your soul. Rachmana Liba Ba'ey God demands the heart. Not your dishes. Not your wallet. The heart, the inner being of the Jew.

This kind of Judaism isn't esoteric. These aren't hidden secrets. It's just a different way to read the common traditions, the common books. Start with the simplest of Jewish expressions. Do you remember your very first day in Sunday school, in Hebrew school, in nursery school. They sat you in a circle and gave everyone a cracker and paper cup of grape juice, and taught you to say a bracha, Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheynu Melech Ha-Olam, Borei Pri Hagafen. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

What does that mean? What does it mean to say a bracha? The philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel used to lecture at synagogues, churches, universities. And wherever he would be speaking, he would look out at the audience and say, Ladies and Gentlemen, a great miracle just happened. And people would sit forward, eager to know what was this great miracle. And then he'd say, "A great miracle just happened, the sun went down." People would stare at him, wondering if he'd lost his mind. Some would laugh, others shake their heads. Then he'd begin to talk about the mind of the religious personality. What it means to be religious. How a religious person sees the world. He'd ask the audience, what have you lost when you lose the capacity to wonder at a sunset? When you're no longer surprised, when you're no longer impressed, when you no longer stop to notice the sun setting? What do you lose when life becomes "normal", mundane, common?

Wonder, awe, and a sense for the mystery of life, what Heschel called "radical amazement" are at the center of this Jewish spirituality. But not just at the magnificent and the remarkable --most anyone would feel amazement visiting the Grand Canyon, witnessing the birth of a child, recovering from a serious disease. Can you find astonishment in a cup of watery, Sunday School grape juice? Can you find the miracle in that little paper cup?

The bracha is a pointer to where God can be found in this world. The bracha is that little trail of bread crumbs left behind by our ancestors to lead us back to that frame of mind, that condition of consciousness in which each moment of life is apprehended as a miracle. In which the sacred and the profane, the wondrous and the common, are never separated. To grasp the message of the bracha, to follow the bread crumb trail, we've got to get into the words of the bracha -- the translation won't do.

Let's start in the middle, this word, Adonai. We translate it as Lord. What a dreadful word. Something medieval suggesting masculinity, hierarchy, power, demanding obsequious obedience.

The Hebrew name of God is spelled Yod Hey Vav Hey, which is the starting point of all Jewish theology. YHVH is an impossible construction of the verb, "to be". Hayah, that which was; HoVeh, that which is; Yihiyeh, that which will be -- all forced together in a grammatically impossible conflation. All that is, all that was, all that will be. All of substance and all of thought. All of being and all of becoming. All of matter and all of energy. The All.

The Zohar teaches: There is nothing that is not pervaded by the power of divinity. God is everything that exists, though even the totality of everything that exists is not God. God is present in everything and everything comes into being from God. Nothing is devoid divinity. Everything is within God; God is within everything and outside of everything. There is nothing but God.

It's hard to speak about the All. We reach the end of our thoughts, the end of our words, the end of our symbols. The elusiveness of this name is represented by the fact that you can't even pronounce the Name. It's all soft vowels, no hard consonants. At the very most, pronouncing YHVH is the sound of one's breath. We say, Adonai, simply as a place-keeper for this unpronounceable name.

Adonai Eloheynu, the Lord our God. That the same problems as Lord. No matter how hard we try, when we use the word "God" we always imagine someone masculine. Always someone "up there" -- outside the world, outside us. God always ends up looking and sounding like your grandfather, or your rabbi when you were a kid, or Charleton Heston. God always come to us with James Earl Jones' voice.

When we were kids, we learned a story from the Midrash about Abraham in his father's shop, making and selling idols. One day, he realizes the absurdity of this, so he smashes all the idols, except the biggest. He puts the hammer into the hand of that one. And when his father asks him what happened, he explained that the idols got into a brawl. And this one, the biggest and strongest one, destroyed all the others. Everyone knows this story. But we don't internalize its full radicalism. To replace a multitude of god with one all-powerful God who stands outside of us -- an Other, outside the world, and enforcing His will upon the world -- is still idolatry. All the idols are reduced to one, but that one remains an idol.

What does it mean to say Adonai Eloheynu? It means only Adonai, only YVHV, only the One who encompasses the All, the All of Being, and the All of Becoming is worthy of awe, of reverence, of worship. What do we say to Adonai, the All of Being and Becoming? We say Baruch. Have you any idea how remarkable a statement this is?

Baruch, Blessed. Blessed is the All, the One of Being.

For the Buddhist, the bottom line is human suffering. For Buddhism, this is a world of evil, pain, disappointment, betrayal, of aging, death and despair. Only by withdrawing from the world and its illusions, from the pull of desires, possessions, expectations, can you find peace and an end to suffering. Don't want. Don't expect. Don't hope. Don't dream. And you won't suffer. No Buddhist would ever say, Baruch Atah Adonai.

For Christianity, the bottom line is death. Death is the most important event in life, because death sends you on your way to eternal bliss or to endless punishment. This world is only a test. This world, with all its temptations, seductions, sinful distractions, is only the proving ground. Real life only begins in the next world. No Christian would ever say Baruch Atah Adonai.

For the atheist, the nihilist, the hedonist, there is no bottom line. It is all absurd, meaningless, pointless, purposeless. So eat and enjoy, and do what you like, because nothing matters anyway. No atheist can say Baruch Atah Adonai.

Don't Jews know suffering? Don't Jews know death? Don't Jews know evil? Of course. But the sublime chutzpah of this tradition is that it is willing, despite it all, to choose life. Baruch Atah Adonai. This world. This life. This moment. "V'yar Elohim Ki Tov." And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good. This people who know more about suffering than any people in the history of humanity, this people teaches its children to choose life, to celebrate life, to affirm this world. With all the pain. With all the disappointments, torments, and betrayals, bitterness is not a Jewish emotion. Over the door of the Bratslaver shteibel the Rebbe ordered these words inscribed: Jews Never Despair.

Baruch atah Adonai, Blessed are You Adonai, the All of Being, Eloheynu, who alone inspires my awe and reverence, Melech Ha-Olam. Melech means King. Olam means all of space, the universe. And when we say, L'olam, it also means all of time. What does Melech Ha-olam mean?

You see before you a body. I have a body. I am a body. And I testify before you that within this body is a self. I have a sense of "me" in here. But how do I define that? How do I describe that? What is that voice that speaks to me inside my head? What is it that gets angry, gets depressed? When we say "self-control" "self discipline" what is it that is controlled or disciplined? And who's doing the controlling? the disciplining? We have words for these phenomena-- personality, consciousness, ego, -- but what they represent is very hard to define. And isn't that strange. Here is the very closest thing in the world, and it is still so mysterious, so elusive.

If the body has within it a self, does the universe have within it, a self? Perhaps that's what's meant saying Melech Ha-Olam. We don't just try and imagine All of Being. We affirm that there is a oneness to All Being, and that the One has purpose.

But the most important implication of this has to do, not with God, but with me. If the universe has a self, where am I, where is my self in the greater self of the universe? If All is One, what of me, mine, the ego, the self, the sense of separateness that marks my identity? That's the radical message of the bracha. To call Adonai, the One of All Being, Melech Ha-Olam, means that I am not Melech Ha-Olam. I am not the center of the universe. I am not the measure of all things. I am not the author of my own existence. But then what am I?

The Hasidic tradition teaches that a person must always have two pockets. In one pocket, he keeps a petek, a slip of paper bearing the Biblical warning, Ani Afer V'efer, I am but dust and ashes. And in the other pocket, he keeps a petek affirming Talmudic wisdom, Bishvili Nivra Ha'olam, For my sake was the whole world created. The self is real. But our absolute sense of the separateness, the autonomy of the self, is an illusion. In reality, there is no absolute separation of you and me, us and them, our people and their people, man and nature. Beneath the diversity and multiplicity of life, beneath the separations, is an all-encompassing, all embracing unity. It is a sign of the broken-ness of the world, its condition of exile, that we experience such sharp disjunctions, sharp edges dividing us, dividing reality.

What are all these sins we confess on Yom Kippur? They are assertions of the self over others. Ashamnu, Bagadnu. My desires, my wants, my needs, my impulses, my rights, my voice drowning out yours, drowning out the plea of the All to be recognized and realized in my life.

Melech Ha-olam teaches that the self is not King. The self is not omnipotent. The self is not the center and standard of all value. Melech Ha-Olam is an affirmation that the self, so warily defended, so heavily guarded, so independent, the self is only an expression of the All, only a part of the All. But a precious part, a unique expression. Reb Zusya taught, When we face our creator at the end of life, God will not ask us, why weren't you Abraham? God will ask, Zusya, why weren't you Zusya? God doesn't need you to be Abraham. God doesn't need you to be Moses. God needs you to be you. "Every person," wrote Martin Buber, "represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique. ... Every single person is called upon to fulfill his/her particularity in this world. Every person's foremost task is the realization of his unique, unprecedented and never-recurring potentialities."

Contemporary culture deifies the self, makes the self into God. Buddhism, and so many of the meditation disciplines, teach the extinction of the self. Judaism teaches that I am real, and I am realized only when I recognize my connections to the All. The Hasidic tradition understood the word mitzvah to be derived from the Aramaic, tzavatah - meaning togetherness, bonding.

You know this from the tradition. When two individuals, surrendering the absolute boundaries of the self, but holding on to the uniqueness of self, bond together in love and responsibility, we call that Kiddushin -- holiness.

When a family or a community of friends gathers over a Shabbat table, a Yomtiff table, we raise a glass of wine as a symbol of our bonding, our interdependence, our sharing of life, of laughter and tears, of accomplishments and of failures, we raise a glass of wine, and that's called, Kiddush -- holiness.

And when someone we love dies. We rise to affirm that the bonds of love are stronger than death. That memory, shared wisdom, shared love, shared dreams, survive the grave. We rise and recite Kaddish. Holiness.

Holiness is in bonding. Overcoming the lonely exile of the self in love, in solidarity, in sharing.

That Sunday morning, years and years ago, we gathered in a circle, each of us with our cup and our cracker and we recited: Baruch atah Adonai, blessed are You Adonai, the One of All of Being, Eloheynu Melech Ha-olam, who inspires my awe and reverence, You who are the unifying self of the universe, Borei Pri Ha-gafen, who opens my eyes, and opens my heart to the wonder and mystery of life, who teaches me to overcome bitterness and despair, to affirm and accept and celebrate the miracle of my life, my uniqueness, my connection with You, my purpose in Your world ... how? with a little paper cup of watery Sunday School grape juice, a stale graham cracker and with every other moment of life. Amen.

And while we drank our juice and ate our cracker, they told us a story about a silly man named Yekel son of Izak, who yearned to find a treasure, a treasure that would bring him happiness, contentment, fulfillment. He sat, night after night, at his kitchen table, imagining that treasure. One night he had a dream, the most vivid dream of his life. In his dream he saw a bridge in the great city of Crackow, and under the bridge, he saw the treasure of his lifetime buried. Waiting to be dug up. Up he rushed, before even the dawn broke. And he ran to the city of Crackow to find the treasure. There in the center of the city was the bridge, just as the dream had described. And under the bridge, he began to dig. As the sun came up, he had opened a huge pit. A policeman came by and asked him what he was doing. Yekel saw there was no way to lie. So he told the policeman all about the dream and the buried treasure. The policemen laughed at him. "Why if I followed every dream of buried treasure! Last night I dreamed that there is a Jew named Yekel who doesn't know that under his kitchen floor lies a great treasure!" Hearing his name, Yekel jumps from the pit. Grabs his tools and runs home. He digs up the floor of the kitchen, and sure enough: There, under the table where he'd sat for so many years dreaming, there under his own kitchen floor was his treasure.

Come home. You who have left to find a spiritual path among the peoples and cultures and spiritualities of the world, come home. The treasure you seek lies buried here in your Jewish soul.

And you who suffer from a twisted, empty, lifeless Judaism, who come to the synagogue hungry for connection, for transcendence, for meaning and purpose and inspiration, and leave empty and frustrated, dig deeply in wisdom of your traditions, for there is a gift here of insight, of wisdom, of imagination and genius, a gift you've never been shown.

And you who worry about your children and your grandchildren. Will they be Jewish? Will they continue these traditions? Will they care? Understand that you can't pass on this tradition with guilt, with bribery, with coercion or with threats. Only when they find here, in this tradition, a sense of life's meaning and purpose, of their place in the world, and the way to find celebration in the world, only then will they, only then should they, make the choice to keep this faith alive into the next generation. Give them the visions and dreams of their ancestors, and they will return to find the treasure.

L'yehudim Haytah Orah v'simcha v'sason vi'kar, ken tiheya lanu. The Jews of old had wisdom and joy, celebration and warmth. So may it be for us.


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