Posted by: fullandbye | September 23, 2007

What happens when Wiesel, Buber, Maimonides and Steinsaltz dialogue in your mind?

Yesterday was the most intense Yom Kippur I have ever had. I mean this in an entirely good way.

My formative years were defined largely by an immersion in and absorption of a prescribed Jewish Identity. In early high school I made the facile intellectual exercise of conflating a tradition with its adherents and sought to distance myself from the community and from the tradition. I needed this separation, and I think I have benefited greatly from creating an identity that does not rely on organized religion for its form or tenor. I have had a much harder time recently maintaining this division.

The notion of god in Judaism is really really strange. On the one hand, god is personified repeatedly in the Torah. But on the other hand there are many injunctions against anthropomorphizing god. So where does that leave us? It leaves us with the task of each finding our own meaning as to what we believe in and also as to how we relate to whatever we believe is larger than ourselves.

In Judaism, the most powerful and important attribute of god is this: wholeness, completeness, singularity, pervasiveness. The anglicized “Jehovah” comes from the Hebrew acronym yud heh vav heh (something like yhvh) which means something to the effect of “that which is everywhere”. It is said that this everywhereness is best observed, sanctified and harmonized through the creation of shalom.

I find it really lovely that the word “shalom” does not mean simply “peace”, but is expressive of a concept that is better described as “completeness”, or “unity” or “all of a piece” (which I like to play as “all of a peace”).

Not really capable of believing or even of imagining a sort of personal god, a god who made the world in six days or who really cares whether homosexuals engage in physical acts of love, I am left wondering, what is all-of-a-peace? I ultimately arrive at the conclusion that I can appreciate and solidly embrace a sort of interconnectivity in the world. Some minute amount of it is apparent to me, the vast majority of it is not. But I believe strongly that each of us must at some point marvel at the world and wonder how we might best participate in it, relate to it, connect ourselves to its cycles and pulse.

Atonement. At-one-ment. Becoming one. Becoming whole. Becoming all of a peace. This Yom Kippur I came to realize that a Jewish identity resonates strongly within me. It always will. I also realized that within the framework of god-as-oneness, the greatest influence Judaism has over me has little to do with how I might relate to a personal god, and almost everything to to with how I relate to myself, to others, to the world around me.

I have done violence to this world. To its connectivity. To its shalom.

I have isolated myself from the those I love the most. I have distanced myself from those whom I should be closest to. People are people through other people. True-to-selfness (identity? honesty?) is a muscle we must exercise, and I realize this muscle has grown weak recently. Allowing, even encouraging this distance, this atrophy of self-through-others is a violation of shalom. Atonement must always be an act of love. Love for the world, for people in it, for the beings we are in the process of becoming, and for the very process of becoming beings capable of sanctifying the world through kindness, grace, awareness, connection.

Not ever fully knowing how we fit in the world, what is the sanest thing we can do? The sanest thing in the world is to love outright.

I feel as though an enormous load has been lifted from my shoulders.

At-One-Ment. It is so beautiful. I weep tears of love and awe as I consider its loveliness, its wholeness.

There seems to be a pretty broad consensus that the year really seems to start around now.

Shanah Tovah everyone.




  1. Beautiful post, as yours so often are.
    I have found myself in a similar position of spirituality through estrangement. Though I was brought up catholic, I mostly just went through the motions and eventually distanced myself outright. Lately, though, I catch myself pondering spiritual matters more as they relate to the way people treat one another and less as they are prescribed by some set of rules or dogma.
    I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago about my new path and my desire to fight for social justice through education, and she mentioned how everyone she new in the same fight (including herself) were estranged catholics. It’s as though some of the values and the will to help others rubbed off, but all the ritual and outdated social engineering just didn’t take.
    Perhaps all religions should include a personal spirituality sabbatical of some kind wherein a person can define spirituality and the fundamentals of their faith on their own terms…

  2. You know… there are some very good points in here. I’m going to have to sit for a while and think about them. Thanks for posting this.

  3. I really love this post.
    It puts very eloquently things I have already thought but had a hard time putting to words.
    With your permission, I’d like to email your post to a friend of mine in DC I had a recent conversation with about this. I could make it anonymous, but I’m pretty damn sure you guys don’t know each other.
    would that be ok?

  4. You are free to forward this to whomever you like. I ask simply that I be credited for putting these particular words in this particular order.
    Or somesuch thing.

  5. This post was a decade in the making. Jewish identity is a strange strange beast. I suppose any religious identity is.
    Next time I am in the Bay Area, we should find a way to meet l’cafeh.

  6. I think that spirituality sabbaticals are a great idea. Ultimately, for something to be meaningful I think we must interpret it on our own terms, with our own symbology. We must define our spirituality as much as our spirituality defines us.

  7. but of course. 🙂

  8. Beautiful, Raz. I’m moved and I concur, though I arrive by different means. We should share a pitcher and talk about these matters sometime.

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