Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Making the Leap

Like all kids, my son struggles with the added responsibilities of becoming an adult. He is slowly making the leap to maturity. In many ways the passage to adulthood can be likened to reaching a maturity in our relationship with G-d. In Numbers, the Israelites have wandered in the desert for 40 years and have been shedding the poison of slavery. In last weeks Torah portion, Mase'ei, we are given a breakdown of the number of stops made. They are now poised to make the leap in the Land. They will do so without Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. The miracles of manna, water gushing from rocks, and being led night and day by a pillar of cloud and fire will not be there. The Israelites have reached maturity and no longer need these things. They have been given the Torah which includes the oral tradition. They have been given a guide on how to conduct themselves and how others are to be treated. Each one is responsible for his own actions. Maturity has been reached.

Shimshonit at Jews by Choice reflects on this idea of maturity:

And yet Judaism, at least as I see it, is not like most other faiths. Judaism boasts—and demands—a level of maturity not always seen in other religions. Jews are responsible for their own actions, and are required through a clear process to atone for their own sins against others and God. They have traditionally been required to be literate and learned, rather than reserving that education for their clergy. Rather than being encouraged to reject this world in favor of some transcendent state or a world to come, Jews are mandated to embrace this world wholeheartedly (pain, joy, and everything in between) and to improve it as much as possible during our time here. And we are expected to follow the commandments we are given through our own free will. (Yes, there are punishments stipulated for transgressing them, but the reward of being holy and having our own land are enticements rather than threats.)

Early in my teaching career, I was asked to help a high school classroom full of evangelical Christians to understand the Jewish religious outlook better. I prepared answers to their questions in advance and when I was finished my little talk, a hand shot up in the third row. "Do you believe in the Devil?" the student asked. I paused a minute, trying to think of any stories I knew of in the Torah where the Devil looms large. I answered that Satan plays a very peripheral role in Judaism, and we don’t really think about him much. (I’ve since learned from the Book of Job that the Satan is actually on Hashem’s payroll.) "Then why be good?" she asked. I was aghast. I had learned to be "good" (moral, ethical, whatever) without benefit of much religion in my house, but here was someone for whom goodness could only be learned out of fear of punishment. "Because it’s the right thing to be," I answered. I didn’t want to be rude, but all I could think was, It’s what distinguishes grown-ups from children, and a religion fit for a grown-up from a religion fit only for a child.

I recall the many times the Catholic priest urged those in the pews to have the "faith of a child". He may have meant that just as we as children had faith that our parents would take care of us, so too would G-d. The phrase places people in the role of being perpetual children. This creates a tension, for as adults, we know or should know we are responsible for our actions and amends must be made.

We have to do the right thing. And when we fail, amends must be made to those we have harmed. It is accepting responsibility and making the leap into maturity. This is what our ancestors did in the 40 years of B'midbar and it wait we strive to do today.


Esther said...

I really liked this post! I found this past week's torah portion an interesting one as well.

It was really nice to get your comment on my first post in a cazillion years, lol. I'm still a slug. But maybe I'll post a little more. These days I'm mostly helping others blog. I actually think you'd get a kick out of one of them -- this really great Rabbi out by me. Check it out sometime if you want. I love the title he came up with for it: http://www.torahfromsincity.com/blog

It's all him, by the way. I just make it pretty (which I suppose is debatable; it's a work in progress).

Glad to see you're still plugging away...in all areas. :)

shira0607 said...

I'll check out the rabbi's site. I hope you decide to blog more.