Sir Ken Robinson, a world renown author and speaker on education tells the following story.
“I heard a great story recently — I love telling it — of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six, and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this girl hardly ever paid attention, and in this drawing lesson, she did. The teacher was fascinated. She went over to her, and she said, “What are you drawing?” “And the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, “They will, in a minute.””
As children our imaginations can lead us to far away lands, we have the ability to invent new friends and provide for ourselves excitement for days on end…and then we grow up. A child has no concept of faith, but they know someone else is looking out for them. He knows that when he falls someone will be there to pick him up… his faith is in the parents, teacher, greater being. While he may not have the words to describe that faith or can verbalize and translate that belief into Faith in God, as a child the acceptance of something greater than yourself is a given.
Whether it be Elijah the prophet on Passover or a belief in God, children have the ability to believe, to have faith in things unseen.
In the story above the teacher looks at the child and says, “nobody knows what God looks like”, thinking to themselves ‘I am the adult, I know things…’ and the child, with the wisdom of Solomon turns around and says unapologetically, “give me a minute to finish and you will see.”
On Rosh Hashanah we ask forgiveness from our friends, our neighbors, even strangers. On Yom Kippur we spend 25 hours focused on our relationship with the divine (that could be God, could be community…etc). The journey before us tonight is prioritizing our relationship with that which is greater than ourselves. The challenge is rekindling in ourselves both the drive and the desire to seek out greater meaning in our own lives.
Ken Robinson believes that we do not grow into creativity, we grow out of it. I believe the same to be true of faith, we have it until we allow ourselves to grow out of it. Pablo Picasso once said that “all children are born artists; the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up”. How does one remain faithful? In the past 5 years the term “spiritual but not religious” has become part of the vernacular of religious life. My grandmother was the embodiment of this term, she loved being Jewish, synagogue was not her thing, but she prayed every night, not the evening service, no she would list everyone she knew who was ill asking God to make them better. As a child I believed that my grandmother had a better chance of being answered by God than the guy in shul, you know what I still think that may be true. Yet, something happened in the past 10-15 years where religion began to play second fiddle to terms like spirituality and mindfulness. Heschel believed that spirituality was “life lived in the continuous presence of the divine.” 10 years ago my grandmother was religious, now that she has passed away she is spiritual. She was “religious, yet by todays terms she would be spiritual.
I don’t make light of the terminology, only that we are all after the same outcome. We want to feel close to something that is difficult if not impossible to explain.
The problem of course is that we grow up. As we grow up, as we mature, we see both blessing and curse and we begin to question that which we previously had faith in. The innocence of childhood allows us to believe, as we get older our worlds get smaller, our imaginations work less, and our faith diminishes. One of the problems is that we are brought up believing that faith is one size fits all, but the beauty of faith is that it too can evolve and mature. Faith is not supposed to be dormant. Too often we meet someone who has a deep sense of faith that we crave and assume it must be a gift, something inherited, not something that is worked for over time.
There is a beautiful story about a man who came to his rabbi and said: “Rabbi when. I was a child I felt very close to God. Now that I am older, it seems as of God has left, or perhaps it is I who have left. In either case, I feel far from God. I am not sure what to do.” The rabbi answered him, “When you teach a child to walk, at first you stand very close. The child can only take one step, and then you must catch him. But as he grows, you move farther and farther away, so that he can walk to you. God has not abandoned you. Like a good parent, God has moved farther away, but is still close by, waiting for you. Now you must learn to walk to God.”
Faith evolves, it matures, it grows with our understanding of the world around us; unless we stop trying.
Last August, Shira and I took Naama and Leor on a road trip to get a good view of the total solar eclipse. I think we still have some of those crazy glasses if anyone needs! As it got closer to 1pm it began to get dark, finally getting to a point where it seemed like the middle of the night, and Leor got scared and began to cry. Shira “god bless her” comforted him, but he was upset at the idea of it getting dark in the middle of day. He has faith, that just as every other day of his life, the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening. He has seen rain and snow, but there was no weather, it just got dark. What must that be like for a 3-year-old? In that moment I began to wonder what it must have been like for our ancestors, without the internet, without maps showing the “path of totality”, to experience a solar eclipse? I certainly would have been scared, but more than that I would be curious. Why did this happen, why today, who else saw it? In that moment Leor experienced a sense of wonder and amazement that I long for in my daily life.
Technology is a gift, with tremendous benefits yet it solves for the variable of that which is unknown. The unknown gives us the gift of creativity and faith. Some may ask – Why do we need faith when everything can be explained by a tap on a screen or click of a button? It was in the obituary written for faith that the concept of mindfulness and spirituality came onto the scene. Ironically as humans we hunger for people and things to have faith in, we search for moments of awe and inspiration. In so many ways we recall our 4-year-old selves with jealousy.
Two and a half years ago I needed faith. I searched for it. And not by dogma or my adherence to Jewish Law, I needed to dig for it. Two and a half years ago I work up in the middle of the night and collapsed. Shira immediately took me to the hospital and I learned that I was in A-Fib, my heart was not in rhythm. The next few months while talking to doctors, trying medications and developing a plan were the hardest – not for the pain, (Thank God) not for the stress of medical bills, but for coming face to face with the possibility of my own mortality at age 35. Heschel says the truly pious don’t fear death, I was not, and am not there yet. Here is what I realized, for myself – whether it be prayer, ritual observances like Shabbat or Kashrut, ethical commandments like taking care of the sick or stranger don’t make you adverse to challenge or tragedy, they give you tools to deal with it. The doctors explained to me in absolute clarity what was going on with my heart and when I asked why it happened, their response was found in their silence. I’ll be honest and tell you that with the exception of praying that Shira was healthy with Naama and Leor I never prayed for anything specific, I prayed because being in community connected me to our collective past, and I prayed for the wellbeing of our collective whole. After that those 2-3 days in the hospital, I figured out what it meant to be religious and spiritual, it was not simply my connection to dogma, to following religious law, I felt a deep connection with something greater in the universe and I needed it, as I was scared.
The challenge we all face, myself included, is that our ability to search out the divine OR that which we believe is holy, cannot happen only once a year. Can you imagine marking your calendar a year in advance to show up at the gym for one day only, do a killer workout, you are sore for a week if not longer, and then you mark the date again for the next year?
Many of you know I love sports, especially baseball. Religious experiences, whether they be prayer or otherwise, are a lot like getting a chance to bat. In baseball, players who have a .250 -.300 average, those that get a hit 2 to 3 times for every 10 times at bat are considered to be an all-star. The best of the best, may for a brief moment hit 400, meaning that they get a hit 4 out of every 10 times at bat, which said another way means that they don’t get a hit, they strike out, hit a pop fly, you name it, a majority of their times at bat. THEY FAIL TO DO WHAT THEY ARE TRYING TO DO 6 OUT OF EVERY 10 TIMES, AND THESE INDIVIDUALS ARE FIRST BALLOT HALL OF FAMERS. Religious experiences are pretty similar.
Stay with me here, as children we are allowed to hit a ball off of a tee, it makes it easier. We are given a crutch or a learning tool, as an adult we are expected to hit that same ball speeding toward us midair. As we get older life is more complicated, the game is more difficult. But what can we learn from those all-stars? THEY KEEP SWINGING. They fail a majority of their times at bat. We don’t always knock it out of the park, but we keep swinging, we keep practicing, so in those moments when we really need it- we have the skills and tenacity to bring it home. If you think that every time I show up at synagogue to pray that I am batting 1000, that I have that “spiritual experience” every time, you would be wrong. Yes, I pray. I keep swinging. I hope to feel moved spiritually, but I keep showing up in order that I MAY be moved spiritually. We want mindfulness, we want spirituality, we want religiosity…the question is are we prepared to practice?
Too often, I have received emails from parents telling me that their son or daughter came home and pronounced that they don’t believe in God. The parents drop me a line and ask if the child can come sit and chat with me. I relish the opportunity to sit with anyone and discuss their faith, but all too often I sit baffled at the request.
There is an apocryphal story about the ancient synagogue in Aleppo, that until recently was in use. Unfortunately, it, like so many other historic landmarks in that part of the world, have been destroyed in warfare. The ancient synagogue housed one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Hebrew Bible Manuscript known as the Aleppo Codex. To read about the Codex is to jump into a world of mystery and intrigue that is on par with Dan Brown novels and Indiana Jones, sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. This is the actual text that Maimonides sat with when he wrote his famous law code. Regardless, the tradition was that upon reaching the age of bar mitzvah the rabbi of the synagogue, along with the shamas (the ritual director) would take these 13-year-old young men down into the depths of the ancient synagogue to the room where the Codex was kept. One young man recounted his experience saying ““They gathered us, 15 children, stood us in a line, a few meters from the safe, and opened it with two keys,” he said. “Many of us were gripped by a powerful trembling, because since we were babies, we’d been taught that a plague would kill whoever didn’t relate to the book with suitable respect.”
The Codex had and still has an aura around it. To show these young men this revered text was as if you were showing them the face of God. This field trip was about instilling a sense of faith through a book that goes back time immemorial.
Unfortunately, we do not have the Aleppo Codex to show our teens when they have questions of faith. When these calls and emails come from parents my most frequent response is to turn the conversation back on the adults and ask what they believe in and whether they have ever had that conversation with their children.
There is a great deal that our kids can gain from sending them to the local expert. I could not teach my own kids to swim, so we called the JCC aquatics center and took care of it. If there is anyone willing to help me teach them how to ride a bike, talk to me after services, and I know that there are many parents of teenagers in the room who are thrilled that driving schools take care of teaching our kids how to drive.
Unlike swimming, riding a bike, or driving – our children want to hear from us about life’s most important questions. What does life mean? Is there a God? Where do we come from? Faith cannot be outsourced.
A story is told of a man who was the disciple of a rabbi living far away. When asked why he travelled so far, the man responded that it was not the hear the rabbi’s formal lessons or sermons, but to see how he tied his shoe laces. More than our words, faith is seen in our daily actions. Our kids look to us.
Tonight, we sit together with a clean slate, we are not so unlike that little girl in the art class, with a blank piece of paper. We are told to draw for 10 minutes, what do we want our relationship to be with God, or that which is bigger than ourselves? How did we want to draw closer to our community? Where are those places where we can let God in? Now as you have thought about the answers to some of these questions I want you go back and think about them through the eyes of a child knowing that no adult is going to tell you that you are wrong or that it is impossible. If only we allowed ourselves to believe, the possibilities are endless, rarely do we get that far before we tell ourselves to wake up.
We are given a gift of 25 hours to rekindle our relationship, let’s make it last
Gmar Hatimah Tovah and Tzom Kal
May we all be inscribed for good health and happiness and may we all have a meaningful fast