The other day I visited an elderly woman who is confined to a bed. However, she is sharp minded and amazingly upbeat. She asked me if I had anything special to tell her. Pointing to the window, I said it was a magnificent sunny day. She said that does not really help her since it is difficult for her to get around.
I mentioned that she has opportunities to pray to G-d. She was not interested, claiming that she does not know any prayers. I asked if she knew the Shema prayer, and I recited the first verse. She shook her head, no. I said, really! You don’t know it? She then said, well, the beginning sounded familiar.
It became apparent from the rest of our conversation, that her formal after-school Jewish education did not supply her with the fundamentals of our Jewish belief in G-d. And over the course of her life she did not develop our beliefs and, in fact, she was fed and was continually exposed to information that, sorry to say, looked askance at G-d.
I tried the best I could to cajole her to gain a bit of clarity, but I was apparently not effective. When I was about to leave, I told her to at least think over what we discussed and I will be back next week and we’ll pick up from there.
Thinking of our conversation, I was reminded of two things that I heard from a rabbi who years ago taught at an after-school Talmud Torah. It was the last place these kids wanted to be, and it was challenging to discipline the students and even to begin engaging them in conversation about Yidishkeit.
He decided to do the following. He handed out to each student a pen and blank papers and asked them to draw what they perceived G-d looked like. This caught their attention.
As an aside, of course G-d has no image or form; what he was asking from them was to draw the Midah – the attribute of G-d ― that they perceived.
The students sat for some time and then they all handed in their drawings. He was stunned; all of them had drawn a devilish and angry image.
The rabbi began wondering why this was. True, the students were not raised in religious homes, but how did the fundamentals that G-d is kind, slow to anger, benevolent, to whom we pray and rely upon, go ignored? And even more, how did it morph into understanding Him as angry?
Without trying to assume the reason for this, the rabbi took each student aside over the course of the semester and asked them what shaped their perception of G-d?
One by one, each of the students said basically the same thing. They were raised without the mention of G-d or the understanding of what our religion is about. This was left to their young and impressionable minds to perceive on their own. All the times they heard G-d’s name mentioned at home or anywhere else, G-d was always being blamed when something went wrong, something unfortunate happened or there was a loss. They seldom or even never heard, “Thank G-d,” when things went well or there was a cause for celebration.
Hearing this negativity towards G-d shaped their skewed impression. Were it not for the rabbi who kind of nipped it in the bud, and introduced them to what G-d is really about, chances are they would have lived their entire lives with the false perception of G-d. They would have lost out on an essential attachment, and an elevated and enriched relationship with Him.
When a Jew is well informed about our unique relationship with G-d through the study and understanding of Torah, our beliefs fall beautifully into place. When one reviews this week’s Parsha, he will see clearly our special relationship with G-d and G-d’s special relationship with us. The Torah spells out the great rewards and blessings when we follow G-d’s instructions and also warns us of G-d’s censure and punishment if we abuse and neglect our relationship with Him.
The Torah mentions an essential and key element in serving G-d effectively and that is to do it with happiness and a joyful heart and spirit. When Mitzvos and serving G-d are done with excitement, smiles and joy, the positive energy radiates and inspires all of one’s surroundings!
Our situation today, without our Temple in Jerusalem, is a direct result of our disregarding the Torah’s teachings. This was forecast in this week’s Torah portion that if we do not heed G-d then we will lose our Temple and be driven out of the Land. Yes, you may say we’re back, but it is not in an uncontentious manner and we are still bereft of our Temple.
This week we read a beautiful, uplifting and inspiring Haftorah where the Prophet Isaiah shares his vision of a utopian world with Moshiach’s arrival. It will be a world of peace, and prosperity, and where all nations and people will recognize G-d, and the Jews as His representatives.
This prophesy is quite hard for us to imagine as we are witnessing such tumult, war, murder, immorality threats, misdirection, uncertainty and hate. However, it is written in our Holy Books and we read it each year as we prepare for Rosh Hashana, placing our belief, yearning and hope, that peace, harmony, happiness and clarity throughout the world will once again be restored!