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 ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”

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daniel eliezer

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PostSubject: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Fri Jan 04, 2013 9:34 am

Introduction

Although this topic was motivated by Aaryah Maayanot’s topic, “Converting First Part of the Jewish Life Cycle,” in truth and in reality it is a topic that has absorbed me for many, many years. In a moment I’ll share about myself, but first I want to explain what my intentions are. I want to look at us - we who have converted - from a different point of view, from the view of a convert looking from inside himself outward toward the Jewish world. I want to say things about ‘them’ and ‘us’ - most especially ‘us’ - things that no one ever really tells us. These are things that belong to us, things that we need to hear, want to hear, and many times outright ache to hear. I recognize that not everyone here is a Ger - a convert. Some of us are exploring whether we want to become Jews or not, while others or us are somewhere along the road to converting, with everything that’s involved in that, and each has his or her own story.

Okay, for simple information about me, 36 years ago (Jan. 1977) I converted in NYC, after 2½ years of exploring, studying, deciding, and finally committing myself. 2½ later I was on my way to Israel, where I have lived ever since, having grown to include a family of seven children and eight grandchildren. While I haven’t said very much about myself, I am saying, “I’ve put a lot to time into this ‘Jew I have become’.” This DOES NOT make me ‘an authority’, not even really so much about myself, but in that I have experienced a lot I do have what to share.

For those who wish to know more about me, particularly regarding ‘how I’ve gotten to where I am today’, last May a woman who contributes here, Debbie, posted a topic titled, “Interview with a Convert to Judaism,” which appears further down this page. The convert in question is me, and because it is, it’s far more convenient for me to ask you to listen to what Debbie posted, than for me to attempt to describe my story within the limits of this site. It is fair, however, that you hear from me that I have written considerably both ‘to and for Jews’ and ‘to and for Gerim’, and that I write competently. All that this latter means is that I work at saying what I write in the hope that that others can hear what I am saying.

It is quite possible that people won’t want to respond to what I say, which I have no problem with. I really only ask that we be comfortable with what we do, whether responding or not. I’m coming to share, and in that I’m so much further along the road of gerut - conversion, inevitably I’ll bring things that exceed the experiences of others. Despite this, what I will share is for the purpose of learning. Incredulously, given that we live in a time and world of tremendous access to knowledge and instant communication, against this exists a huge vacuum when it comes to the genuine, to the [absolute] truth, to the real, and to that which touches us in the deepest depths of our being. Some of this is exactly as I’ve said, and some of this is because we don’t know how to find or to see and hear what does exist.

It may be that what I come to share doesn’t speak to us or interest us or is something that we’re not ready for yet. We all realize that we have a lot to learn in life and that we have to have many kinds of teachers. What’s important for us to know is that there are teachers who increase our knowledge and there are those teachers who give us life. We need both, but we have to bless ourselves that we’ll be given the wisdom to know who is who, because it is the latter who give us ‘our lives’.

Please, let it be for a blessing that whatever I am able to contribute will be of value and have merit. If we’re living in this world, it’s because we need help to make it and we need to help others make it. This is what is meant by the expression ‘tikun olam’, fixing the world: to heal and be healed.

And to close with a little philosophy and some humor...

We are the chosen People.

On the garbage dump of life we can choose to be part of the dump…

Or we can choose to be a flower…imparting color, beauty, and fragrance!

Shabbat Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer



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Salvia



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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Sun Jan 06, 2013 12:04 pm

I'm sorry Daniel, but I don't really understand what is the topic you want to discuss here...Or are you simply giving a broader introduction of yourself?
I appreciate the introduction, it seems you are a very knowledgeable person.

I'm a bit late for rendering your Shabbat Shalom - I wish you a good week instead ;)
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Sun Jan 06, 2013 8:38 pm

Here is the link again to the Interview with Daniel on Israeli national radio: Interview with a Convert

I have read many of Daniel's writings (it is unfortunate that the large number of his beautiful dvrei Torah and discussions on a old and private forum for converts to Judaism have probably been lost) and have had a number of discussions with him. Here is my attempt to explain my understanding of at least part of what Daniel wants to discuss:

Many converts work very hard at the formal process of becoming a Jew. They have obviously given some thought as to why they want to convert or else they wouldn't be doing it, and of course explaining themselves to the Beit Din is part of the conversion process. But typically, even though converts often start their "journey" to conversion from a private and inner motivation, they come to look at who they are as Jews from the point of view of the outside Jewish world. It is very natural that this should occur. First there is so very much to learn even to start being a Jew. Then, particularly for those entering observant Jewish communities, there are so very many lifestyle changes and things to do. And finally, of course we want to "fit in"---in converting we chose to become a part of the Jewish people, and we want to feel that we are indeed Jews (which is why it hurts us so deeply when our membership is questioned---and this is a universal experience of gerim (converts to Judaism)---more or less depending upon community or specific characteristics of the convert).

But a question that Daniel has often asked us to ask ourselves is "Who am I, this Jew?" I think that it is a worthwhile question for all Jews, even those who are "frum from birth" (born and raised as religiously observant Jews). But it has a special resonance for converts who by definition have consciously chosen to be Jews and whose lives have thereby been transformed, so clearly that means that being Jewish is important to us. And yet, conversion is not the end of the process---it simply gives us a new reference for asking the question.

It requires looking deeply into ourselves. I think Daniel believes that insofar as we converts have come to be who we are through a transformative process, that we are able to understand this question in a way that Jews by Birth cannot, which is why it is worth discussing on a forum like this one.

The super-condensed version of "my story" for those who aren't already familiar with it: I formally converted to Judaism after over 20 years of being actively involved in Jewish communities, marrying a Jew, and converting and raising my children as Jews. I joke and say that some people go out and buy a bright red sports car when they have a "mid-life crisis"---I just got religious.

--Debbie
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daniel eliezer

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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Mon Jan 07, 2013 3:23 pm

Salvia,

First, thank you for commenting. Regarding what you say about not understanding, you shouldn’t understand. As I stated, “I’m not talking to you.” This is not something personal, but simply recognition (also based on what you said in your lengthy posting) that you’re not focused, certainly not in the way someone who is genuinely exploring becoming a Jew is. Let me share the following teaching with you and maybe you’ll understand a little better.

* * *
A few thousand years ago a non-Jew not unlike yourself came to the great rabbis and stated to them, “I will convert [become a Jew] if you will teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.” Hillel, one of the great sages, responded, “That which is repugnant and despicable to you, don’t do to others. The is the entirety of the Torah. Everything else is commentary; go learn [it].” What was it that Hillel told him? One, Torah is that you have to have compassion, and, two, Torah is relationship – and neither can exist without the other.

This non-Jew challenged the sages, and they answered him. What became of the challenger we don’t know, but if his intentions were genuine and he had the courage of his convictions to absorb and follow the truth that had been given over to him, then we would expect that he became a Jew.

* * *
I am grateful that Debbie knows what I am talking about, as it makes my life considerable easier. She is a solid and knowledgeable person, and her comments are valuable and well worth listening to. As she emphasizes, we are continually in the process of becoming Jews and of looking at “who am I, this Jew?” – something that is entirely true of born-Jews but which is neither visible to them nor taught to them. While often we think of this as a burden, in reality our questioning is our greatest strength.

(Of what she writes, however, what I don’t understand is how she knows she’s in mid-life. To the best of my understanding, you subtract when you were born from when you died and divide my two to get to the middle of your life. LOL)

* * *
Turning to the topic I’ve started, I want to share something that is not from me and which may appear to be seemingly unrelated. It is somewhat long, and although I am easily capable of writing at length, my intentions are NOT TO DO SO here. Still, like in this instance, it can possibly happen.

* * *
There is a book titled, The Soul of the Story: Meetings with Remarkable People, by Rabbi David Zeller, of blessed memory. David Zeller, a Jew, was born in California to parents who were Jews but who were void of any religious identity as Jews. They were Jungian psychologists, and the world David grew up in was the world of Jungian psychology. David himself went on to become one of the leaders in the development of transpersonal psychology (Ph.D. & Professor), but he also went to Israel, spent time in India being a Buddhist, and returned to the U.S. to resume psychology. Interwoven into his story is the gradual awakening and development of his own Jewish identity. Eventually, he returned entirely to his Jewish roots, married, and moved to Israel.

The story of David’s I want to share comes from his encounter with a very prominent Shinto priest, Nakasono Sensei, who had come to America and whom David was desirous of meeting. This is what transpired. It would give David the deepest pleasure to know that I am sharing this with you.

From - The Soul of the Story: Meetings with Remarkable People, by Rabbi David Zeller

“…After introducing ourselves [Nakasono Sensei and David], he asked whether I was Jewish, which sort of surprised me. I was not Orthodox at the time. Nor did I dress in a “Jewish way”. But I did mention that I had lived in Israel for two years before being a sadhu [You have to look it up; a simple translation is insufficient.] in India.

He said that in his Shinto religion there was an interesting story in their oral tradition. He asked whether I knew what oral tradition was. I assured him that I knew what oral tradition meant (that much I had heard about in Judaism). And this is what he told me:

According to Shinto oral tradition, great spiritual teachers met several thousand years ago to report on the progress of their various missions: Had they succeeded in leading various peoples around the world to a spiritual awakening and evolution? Many of them reported of their success through the wisdom of the Vedas in India, and the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching in China, and the wisdom of the Aztecs in South America, and so on. Everyone felt quite good, almost certain that they’d accomplished their specific assignments. But one person raised a troubling question.

“Wasn’t our mission to lead people through a material awakening and a spiritual awakening, and then bring the two together? If it was just a spiritual process, why did we even need to come into this material world? Our task was to bring the two - material and spiritual – together.”

“You’re right,” said the group’s leader. “We were supposed to lead people first through a material awakening, then a spiritual one, then unite them. But who among you will take this on?”

No one wanted that responsibility. These were all enlightened people. They knew that a material awakening could only be reached by going through possessiveness, competition, aggression, violence, and war; and no one wanted to do that.

“No volunteers?” asked the leader. “Then I’ll have to choose someone.”

“So,” said Nakasono Sensei, pausing briefly and looking straight at me, “the chosen people – were the Jews.” The he went on with his story:

From then on, all the spiritual traditions were split between the exoteric and the esoteric, between the mundane and the secret, between religious dogma and spiritual experience. Because, the Sensei explained, if people knew only about the spiritual reality, they would not be motivated to develop the material world and to synthesize these two realms.

The tablets of the Ten Commandments became the universal, and particularly the Jewish, symbol of this process: Spirit inscribed in Stone, Spirit in Matter.

…..Sensei continued, “Jews did a wonderful job developing the material. Wonderful job! But they forgot about the spiritual. If you don’t bring the spiritual and the material together, the whole world will blow up! I don’t care; I’m ready to go!” he laughed. “My job is just to remind Jews what their job is.”

I was quite stunned by this story and its message. But I’d been around the world studying many of the world traditions, so I said, “that’s very well and good, but Jews aren’t the only people worried about the future and its dire consequences. The Hopis [Indians] have a similar message, saying if people don’t get their Spirit and Matter together, ‘purification day’ is coming and everything will burn.”

The priest replied in his Japanese-modified English, “Hopi people wonderful people. Hopi religion wonderful religion. But Hopi not responsible for whole world. Jews responsible for whole world.”

I said, “The Buddhists speak about the end of days and the coming of Avalokateshwara and of our need to achieve higher states of compassion and being.”

“Buddhist people wonderful people. Buddhist religion wonderful religion. Buddhist not responsible for whole world.”

I went through Christian, Hindu, and Sufi teachings, and several others. To each Sensei responded, “Wonderful people, wonderful religion. But not responsible for whole world. Jews responsible for whole world.”

I didn’t hear him saying that Judaism was better than these other faiths. Rather, I understood that each people and tradition had been chosen to do a particular task for all of humanity. Just as each organ in our body must fulfill its “destiny” and function for the overall health of the whole body, so each religious tradition has its function in the body of humankind.

I came away from this conversation with a new understanding of the commandments and a new appreciation for Judaism. It really was quite unique from many other religions, especially by insisting that we live in the material world and in the spiritual world. No monasteries. No retreating from the world. Rather a day-to-day life filled with practices that can unite each material act with spiritual intention.

The word mitzvah is usually translated ‘commandment’. It can also be translated as ‘to join together’. We are ‘en-joined’ to live in such a way that we constantly join Heaven and Earth, Spirit and Matter. Acting in such a sacred manner joins us to God; God is One with us, and God flows through us in everything we do.

No retreat? – I must correct myself. Judaism gives us a spiritual retreat once a week – the Sabbath. Six days a week we work to bring an aspect of the spiritual into the everyday material. One day a week we strive to bring the material into the spiritual. In between our spiritual activities of prayers, rituals, and ceremonies, we have the material through wonderful meals spiced with inspirational learning and song.

If the Ten Commandments are Spirit in Matter, then our Sabbath is Matter in Spirit. Together they keep our lives balanced. [End of quoted material]

* * *
I humorously closed my “Introduction” speaking about ‘being Chosen’, and although what David Zeller, of saintly and blessed memory, writes speaks about ‘chosen’ as our being chosen for responsibility, the deepest truth is that ‘we choose to become who we are’. If you’ve seen the discussions in Aaryah Maayanot’s topic: “Converting: First Part of the Jewish Life Cycle”, there we mention that in the 13th Chapter of Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah which Aaryah quotes, Maimonides begins that chapter by explaining that Jews were required to circumcise themselves in order to enter the Covenant before they would be permitted to eat the Passover sacrifice in Egypt and Jews were required to immerse themselves in a mikveh when they stood at Mt. Sinai before they could enter the Covenant of the Torah. From these two sources is where the Rambam learns what the Torah explicitly requires for halachic conversion: In the presence of a ‘qualified legal court’ (beit din), a potential Ger or Giyoret must (1) accept the yoke of the Torah and commandments, (2) undergo circumcision (excluding females), and (3) immerse in mikveh.

To say it succinctly, that a potential convert must choose is because that is exactly what Jews themselves did: they chose – chose to become who they are!

In closing, in his book, David closes this story by relating that “had a rabbi attempted to explain to me what Sensei taught me about being ‘the chosen people’, I would have stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind me. It took a Shinto priest to make me see.” This is too true of too, too many Jews. Part of the gift of being a convert is that we don’t come to Torah and becoming Jews with [pre]closed minds. We do have genuine limitations that we have to overcome, but as a rule close-mindedness to Torah and Judaism is not one of them.

B’Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer

BTW, for the sake of clarification, my full name is Daniel Eliezer ben Eitan, in itself a genuine story. ‘Daniel Eliezer’ is who I became when I stepped out of the mikveh and ‘ben [son of] Eitan’ became my family name 2 ½ years ago. As Debbie knows, Daniel Eliezer is the fusion of the ‘the Ger I am and the Jew who I have become’, a blessing that only continues to grow. ‘Eitan’, first is a name for Avraham Aveinu, and as such an indication of where I’m from without directly stating it, and foremost a name that was there ready and waiting for me when I knew the time had come to change my name. Eitan means courage in the sense of ‘fortitude’, and it’s a name that is giving me the strength for the continuation of my life. And to be honest, once I chose it, from that moment on I felt like I had been born for it!? – which apparently I have.
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Salvia



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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Mon Jan 07, 2013 3:54 pm

Hi Daniel,

Ok, I get it is not for me you're writing. So I'll keep myself out of the discussion.
But I must rectify I AM focussed. Not on becoming a Jew, clearly (although it is something that plays in my mind somehow, otherwise I wouldn't be here, would I), but I am focussed on finding my path in life and my way to connect with the Divine.

Not all those who wander are lost.

Salvia
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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Tue Jan 08, 2013 9:32 am

Salvia,

While it’s true that learning begins when we become ‘Why’s guys’, there are times in life when we’re in a situation where all that we can do is listen. When I was still very, very new to being a Ger and a Jew, I spent a summer in Brookline, Mass. sitting in Rabbi Joseph Baer Soloveitchik’s (a Talmud scholar of world renown) once a week 3-4 hour Talmud class. I could not read even two consecutive worlds in the Talmud, and all that I could do was sit there and concentrate, absolutely terrified that the Rav would think I knew something and ask me a question. And while it was true that one could always ask the Rav a question, in that I was without the ability to prepare and without even some kind of minimal knowledge of what was being learned because I’d never studied it or encountered it before, there really weren’t any questions that I would have considered worth asking, i.e. which would contribute to what was under discussion.

So I listened and listened and listened, and aside from the first class when I lapsed and was lost, I would stay intensely focused for the 3-4 hours that the Rav would discourse. In terms of knowledge, I would and could only learn minimally, which couldn’t be helped. But in terms of learning Torah, with the passage of time I realized that I’ve gained two precious things from the Rav. The first is the sheer profundity that was the Rav and which he brought to the Torah (in describing to a friend how the Rav would read every single word in the Gemara ever so slowly and how the sense of his pondering and weighing everything was mamash felt, I said that, “It’s like playing chess where the pieces being used are skyscrapers.”). The second is that I read somewhere that when a Rav is giving shiur (class/lesson) to the talmid (student) the shiur must feel like ma’amad Har Sinai – as if you are standing on Mt. Sinai [at the receiving of the Torah]. When I read those words, I realized that that, too, was what I had gotten from the Rav.

I never opened my mouth for the 8-10 classes that I sat in on, but to this day it was one of the greatest and most valuable learning experiences of my life.

Besides this, in order to help you get a little more oriented in where I’m coming from and what my thoughts are, I recommend that you visit this link [http://www.jewishbychoice.org/t76p15-secular-holidays]. On the page you’ll find three postings of mine (answers within the topic). The first is titled, ‘It’s about us’, and some 3-4 postings after it there are two more postings of mine. Again, these not for you as ‘Salvia and where you are now’, but in your wanting to understand better what’s under discussion when listening to me they will be quite constructive for you.

Daniel
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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Tue Jan 15, 2013 1:14 pm

The majority of what follows is from some of the writing I’ve done, which Debbie B. spoke about in her comments above on this topic. This material was written 4 ½ years ago.

* * *
Shalom,

I want to ask a personal favor from everyone who’s reached these lines. Would you please take the time to read this posting. Whether you read the things that I post or not, this posting speaks about something essential and poignant to us as Gerim. It is not about me; it’s about us.

Gerim: Bunkering Down

Two weeks ago, Shabbat Korach, we had a Shabbat guest, a young woman from Norway, who after two years in Israel is close to completing her conversion. Had she chosen to convert under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel, she would probably already have completed her conversion. Instead, she chose to be ‘more stringent’, and she is converting under the auspices of an ultra-Orthodox rabbinical court.

For those who don’t know, Norway has a swath of country that is known as the Christian Belt, because it is populated by a vibrant Christian population that is very pro-Israel. This young woman came for the Christian Belt to Israel to continue her college studies at Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, and her being in Israel awakened in her the urge to convert. That she has chosen to move closer to the ultra-Orthodox religious world is a reflection of the attraction that that world has for many converts and potential converts. Let me explain.

In many ways and for many reasons, when looking at the ultra-Orthodox religious world, their open and visible identity as Jews, which expresses the willingness to adhere to essential values and beliefs in the face of a disparaging and ridiculing world, speaks strongly to many who are in the process of ‘determining their identity’, i.e. who are converting or who are moving on in their post-conversion lives. Equally, there are no too few of these who see in the ultra-Orthodox world security and safety as a Jew, which there is if you fit in and belong.

I speak from personal experience, because during and in the aftermath of my conversion I, too, dwelled upon the idea of becoming ultra-Orthodox, and, truthfully, there are those who were surprised when I didn’t. The reason they thought so is that I was very serious in my religious pursuit, and to them (modern Orthodox Jews) seriousness like mine was mostly found in the ultra-Orthodox world. That I didn’t is primarily because I demanded more intellectual/emotional/creative freedom than what I would find or would be permitted in the ultra-Orthodox world, that and that I didn’t want to cloister myself from the rest of life. What I would have to sacrifice was more than I was willing to.

Admittedly, however, had I been willing to ‘conform’ to the needs and demands of the ultra-Orthodox world, I know very well that there is a lot that I would have benefited from in my religious development as a Jew. That I wouldn’t or couldn’t conform is a reflection of me, but that there exists in the ultra-Orthodox world the deep religiosity that I pursue is a measure of that world. I don’t regret for a minute that I chose as I chose (and I did ‘choose’), but when I see Jews whose lives are steeped in genuinely being Jews and especially when I see Jews who are glowing from the inside because of all their Torah learning I am again reminded of what pulled me so strongly.

I mention all this in order to give us some sense of what attracts this young woman to the ultra-Orthodox world. Without doubt she has her own, personal reasons, but what I’ve described applies to her equally.

During our conversation on Shabbat, we, of course, discussed the problems surrounding halachic conversion (i.e. according to Jewish religious law) today, and as part of the conversation I made mention of this list [the list I was posting to then; not JBC now] and of the various kinds of Jews who participate here, mentioning Reform, Conservative, etc.

She commented, “Reform [Jewry], Conservative [Jewry]…etc. they’re not Jews…”

I asked, “But what about the converts?”

She replied sharply, “They’re not Jews!”

“How can you say that?!” I exclaimed.

“They’re not!” she insisted.

“But they’re not at fault that they chose Reform or Conservative or etc.,” I responded.

“I doesn’t matter. They’re not Jews.”

“But before you began converting, when you didn’t know a Reform rabbi from an ultra-Orthodox one, don’t you remember…” and I stopped as I saw her expression change.

Of a sudden, this sweet, young woman was ‘back there in those pristine days and times and moments’ when all she knew and all that she wanted was ‘to be a Jew’…whatever that meant. For a few magical moments I succeeded in dispelling all the garbage that she’s succeeded in accumulating within too very short a span of time.

We had some deep and open conversations on Shabbat, and I both needed and put to good use my thirty-plus years of being a Ger and the many experiences that I’ve had in helping me counter a lot of the closed-mindedness that she’s drifting into (some knowingly some less so). At the moment she’s still sufficiently open, and quite often an insight or comment or a teaching of mine would return her to the inquisitive, thinking, exploring person she is inside. Which way she’ll turn, who knows? We can only pray that she’ll never leave go of that person inside.

Which is why I am telling this story.

I, personally, have a lot of the closeness to the religious commitment of the ultra-Orthodox world that she is seeking, Because I do, I know how easy, even natural, it is to express the arrogance of, “they’re not Jews”, “those aren’t Jews”, “they never converted halachically”, etc. Thank God, my closeness is a healthy closeness, and I don’t wear the garments of arrogance (at least not in that manner). This doesn’t mean that I am blind or close my eyes to the differences and disparities and distances that separate me from many other Jews and Gerim. I am neither blind nor do I close my eyes.

What I do do is choose. I choose to attempt to share ‘the Jew who I have become’ with others who haven’t been as blessed as I who, because of personal experiences and because of incredibly exceptional teachers, have been blessed to be able to develop the Jew inside me, which is what conversion is all about.

For me, my sharing, first and foremost, is found in my writing, but it isn’t writing merely for ‘eyes to read’ and for ‘minds to hear’. I am writing beyond eyes and ears. I am writing to hearts and souls, hearts and souls that ‘see’ and ‘hear’ and ‘feel’. I am writing most specifically to each of us ‘back there in those pristine days and times and moments’ when all that we knew and all that we wanted was ‘to be a Jew’…whatever that meant.

And because I am writing ‘to us back then’, so, too, must we be listening from ‘ourselves of back then’.

If we’re only listening as ‘I’m Orthodox’ or ‘I’m Reform’, as ‘I’m ultra-Orthodox’ or ‘I’m Reconstructionist’, as ‘I’m Conservative’ or ‘I’m Renewal’, or as ‘I’m whatever’, then we’re not going even to begin to hear or understand. Labels blind us. They’re our way of telling ourselves: “I don’t want to think independently and for myself. When I know what others [like me] think, then I’ll know what I think.” Doing so is no different than my guest from above. We each have our way of ‘bunkering down’, the place where we let others decide who we are. That we need to belong is true, but it’s how and why we belong that is important.

Those who read with any frequency what I contribute, know that I incessantly push Torah learning. (Not him again…what a fanatic!) Not only that, I contribute Torah teachings that exceed most of us, regardless of how much I outright labor to make what I say understandable. Inevitably and undeniably, disparities in knowledge and comprehension do seem to create barriers, but…

Music refutes this perception.

There is absolutely no prerequisite to know and understand music in order for one to listen to it and absorb it and be moved by it, which is the purpose of music. Like all creativity, the musical artist succeeds in capturing what he or she sees or experiences, and he or she presents it so that another or others will also see and experience what he or she has. The more competent the artist, the more knowledgeable we are of the medium that the artist works in, and the more greater are our life experiences, then the more are we going to be able to outright connect to the artist.

In this sense, religion – and for Jews this means Torah – is comparable to the example of the artist. Here, however, the artist is the Divine – the purist of pure Sanctity (who in Hebrew is the Holy One, Blessed be He), but unlike the artist He’s not an artist in the artistic sense. He’s an artist in the ‘real sense’, the ‘real sense’ being that what He does doesn’t merely move us or touch us; it leaves indelible change upon our souls and beings.

Like the artist, however, the more that we attempt to understand what He has done and what He is doing, then the more are we going be able to comprehend and understand Him and in doing so to create for ourselves an outright connection to Him, the Holy One, Blessed be He.

That is what Torah is and does, and that is why we have Torah. The purpose of Torah is to give us the infinite capacity to connect ourselves – meaning our entire being and lives – to the Divine – the purist of pure Sanctity.

To understand Torah as anything less than this is to misunderstand Torah entirely and completely.

What this means is that I can learn Torah for the sake of becoming the most learned, wisest, and religious person in the world, which is certainly no small or unworthy endeavor, but I still will not be learning Torah for the reason it has been given. The Holy and Compassionate One, Blessed be He, wants us to learn Torah so that we – He and we – can become related.

It is the ‘wanting to be related’ that defines those pristine days and times and moments when all that we knew and all that we wanted was ‘to be a Jew’…whatever that meant.

This is hard work and struggle, even for those of us who have an insatiable appetite for it, but the alternative…the alternative is bunkering down: letting others decide who and what we are. We had the courage to step through the gates, but we don’t have the courage to go further. “Won’t you please come in,”....“No thanks, I’ll just stand by the door.” Too often we’re willing to relinquish our unique blessing solely for the sake of acquiring limitation for the sake of belonging and in doing so choosing failure to fulfill identification with belonging’.

There are many, many ways to be a Jew, to be a religious Jew, and even to be a very good religious Jew. The most difficult Jew to be is the Jew who is inside us, and only we ourselves can decide and choose which of these Jews we’ll be.

It is difficult, exceedingly difficult, and given that too, too many…if not most…Jews fall far short of it and, much worse, don’t even try makes it even that much more seemingly impossible. But unlike them, we chose, and because we did we have a responsibility to ourselves.

Most wonderfully, one of our most genuine blessings is those pristine days and times and moments; when all that we knew and all that we wanted was ‘to be a Jew’…whatever that meant. We, both by definition and design, contain within us that magnificent openness and wonder, and once having tasted of that…which really is God’s calling to us…can we ever stop yearning for it…again…and again…and…

B’Shalom,

* * *
My letter of then ended here, because it was part of a long series of writings that I was blessed to contribute to a no longer existent mailing-list for Gerim. Today, however, we can add a little to it for our sakes.

This week is when we read the sidrah ‘Bo’ in Sefer Shemot [the Book of Exodus], and it is in ‘Bo’ where we sacrifice and eat the Passover lamb as preparation for our physically leaving Egypt. I say ‘physically’ because the ‘physical’ exodus from Egypt was dependent upon our achieving spiritual emancipation while we were still within the reality of enslavement to Egypt. The first nine plagues we generally learn as bringing Pharaoh and Egypt to want to let us go, which is true in regards to Pharaoh and Egypt. In regards to B’nei Yisrael [the Children of Israel] these nine plagues served an opposite purpose: that of allowing Moshe and Aharon to build us internally in order to create the strength to make the decisions we would have to make. Remember, two postings ago we emphasized that Gerut (conversion) is learned from two places, the first of which is the Passover sacrifice in Egypt which demanded circumcision in order to be permitted to eat it. The importance of this being that ‘Jews had to choose to be who they are’ to attach themselves to the Holy One, Blessed be He.

In ‘Bo’ we learn about the plague of ‘indescribable darkness’ about which the commentator Rashi explains that the Jews who would not be leaving Egypt died. In next week’s sidrah ‘B’Shalach’, in the second pasuk (sentence) [13:18] on the word ‘חמושים’ (chamushim) in his second comment Rashi quotes the Midrash that says ‘חמושים’ (chamushim) means that only 1/5 of the Jews left Egypt. In extreme brevity, according to the Torah itself only one in five – 20% - of the Jews in Egypt ‘chose to leave’!?

We’re not coming to castigate those who didn’t chose to leave, because this is a very deep learning and not as simple to understand as I state it. What is important, though, and what we are coming to do is to explain that according to the Oral Tradition the Written Torah contains proof that in the eyes of the Torah escape from bondage can only occur ‘when we choose that which makes us free within ourselves’. When this is lacking or absent, then physical freedom itself has little purpose and even lesser meaning.

How do we know?…because the Torah teaches us this. After all, if physically freeing us from Egypt was all that was desired, the only plague would have been the plague of the firstborn, because it was this plague that caused Pharaoh and Egypt to send us on our way. The other nine plagues served other purposes, and if we go back and reread from the story of the burning bush onward we’ll discover this to be true. From the very beginning God told Moshe that the plague of the firstborn is what will cause Pharaoh and Egypt to expel us!

Lest any of us be confused, let’s clarify.

God’s commitment to us is such that He invested his entirety in order to [re]awaken within us the intimacy of closeness and relationship that exists between Him and us. It is because of and from this intimacy of closeness and relationship that exists between Him and us is why we would recognize that Pharaoh and Egypt are incapable of dominating and subjugating us. Furthermore, it is from the intimacy of closeness and relationship that exists between Him and us is why we would understand the purpose of why we must leave Egypt: to follow our unique destination and destiny.

Pharaoh and Egypt were a physical reality of bondage: subjugation and domination, but unequivocally Pharaoh and Egypt are, especially, the paradigm of the destruction and annihilation that subjugation and domination are capable of bringing upon the essence of a human being who is ‘Divinely created’ – the focus of all of God’s love and compassion.

‘Divinely created’ – the focus of all of God’s love and compassion is our unique destination and destiny in our receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai and inheriting the Sacred Land of Israel – for the sake of all mankind and creation.


B’Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer
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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Tue Jan 22, 2013 2:20 pm

Shalom,

In “Bunkering Down” above, I shared a story about myself and another convert that opens up the dilemma that confronts all who want to convert and all of us who do convert. In good part this dilemma is unique to these times, and yet…it’s also not.

It’s unique because the proliferation of factionalism among Jews inevitably and unavoidably reaches us, involves us, and affects us. Even when we claim personally, “I’m above it all,” it’s difficult to sustain, because, first, we’re going to gravitate toward or associate more with certain Jews and communities than others and, second, because Jews themselves are the source of the dilemma, which can succinctly be described as ‘us and them’, but never ‘we’.

But it’s also not unique to these times, because, all things [Jews] being equal, it’s something that’s inherent in conversion.

In the way that what I’ve just said is visible today, I would express it like this. There are those who convert to escape Xtianity. (In that I’m speaking to the western world, I’m focusing on Xtianity). There are those who convert to align themselves with the Jewish world. There are those who convert to become actively part of the Jewish world. There are those who convert to become Jews.

In terms of these times, this delineation is self-evident, because today’s Jews define themselves these ways, right. In terms of converting, I would like to use myself as an example of where these things are visible in a Ger - a convert.

The reality we live in is that there are those who are born Jews and there are those who aren’t, and of those who aren’t there are those who convert to become Jews. We who are not born Jews do not come out of a vacuum. We come from many different backgrounds and reflect many different nationalities and cultures, both overt and inherited, and overlying all this is the Xtian world of influence.

When I finally got up the courage to speak with a rabbi, it was a very nervous and uncertain person who showed up. My own genuine motivation was repentance, if I were to use a single word to describe it, but within my own personal understandings it was revulsion at my life and myself and the desire to change these. (For greater understanding, listen to the interview that is cited above in Debbie B.'s posting.) Despite this, it was tremendously difficult for me to verbalize my thoughts and feelings.

At this, our first meeting, the rabbi asked me, “Why do you want to convert?” and I froze in place. I could not psychologically or emotionally say the words that needed to be said. As I sat there in awkward silence, he studied me for several moments. Finally he said, “There are many ways to do repentance.” In those few words he gave voice to everything that had brought me to his door, and it was an absolute relief to me that he was so capable of discerning what my plight was.

As we conversed some more, he added these comments. “You know that you don’t have to convert,” and I looked at him in puzzlement, because I really didn’t want to hear this since in my own mind I had left Xtianity, and he continued, “you can remain a friend of the Jewish People.” He said it so openly, honestly, and straightforward, that I literally felt the door that was opened before me. As I sat there contemplating what he had said, I could understand so thoroughly that at that moment I was free and welcome to thank him for his time and to stand up and take leave. It was absolutely such an open moment…an invitation even…that I literally knew that I could walk away and no harm would have been done. I also knew that if I did that it would be forever.

Seeing with clarity what was presented to me but without making any decision…because it wasn’t the answer I was looking for or wanted…I asked him what would be involved if I wanted to proceed to learn more about becoming a Jew. As he was answering me, though, and for the remainder of the interview, this ‘open door’ hovered in front of me as a very strong and viable possibility.

In truth, it would remain with me for a very long time, even though the possibility of it did diminish as I progressed. During all the time that I hadn’t either committed myself to converting and hadn’t yet actually converted, I knew that I was free to walk through that door. The rabbi's “You don’t have to do it, period,” would occupy no small amount of my thinking until I converted. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, nevertheless, without any shadow of a doubt, that it existed would become, and indeed was, a central and essential ingredient in reaching my the decision to convert some 2½ years later.

What perhaps isn’t so visible here, although it should be, is that it was at this moment that I confronted openly the recognition that a significant part of my converting was not merely the desire but would be the outright necessity ‘to leave Xtianity’. Where heretofore I was absorbed in the idea of ‘converting to Judaism and becoming a Jew’, which obviously would mean leaving Xtianity, I had never considered, if I thought about it at all, that ‘leaving Xtianity’ was and would be a separate thing of its own being. When you immerse in the mikveh and emerge ‘you’re a Jew’…or are supposed to be. But the change in the world outside is scarcely noticed, if at all. It’s all inside, and it’s inside is where the question “Who am I?” is answered. The Jew I had become, but what about the Xtian inside me?

Because my previous postings have been lengthy, we’ll stop here, closing with this.

During the first nine plagues, as part of the necessary preparation to get us to chose to leave Egypt, Moshe and Aharon succeeded in reaching us inside and restoring us to ourselves enough so that we were able to see ourselves with greater clarity and were able to make the decisions needed to believe in what was happening and that we could do. I used the words ‘restoring us to ourselves enough’, the emphasis being ‘not entirely’.

I say this while looking at the word ‘חמושים’ in this week’s Torah portion, B’Shalach, for which Rashi brings the Midrash that says only 20% left, which means that the overwhelming majority of Jews never left.

It’s occurred to me that there is another way to understand this Midrash. It’s not that 20% made it, but that we were only 20% believers or 20% committed when we did decide and did leave. We had the correct belief and commitment. We just didn’t have 100% command of it.

The proof of this is actually what the portion of B’Shalach is all about. First, we all know that in B’Shalach all the trials on the journey to Mt. Sinai were for the purpose of building us, for our reaching the level of completion where we would be capable of receiving the Torah. Second, at the very end of B’Shalach we confront our last challenge, the war with Amalek, which is instigated by our declaring, “היש ד’ בקרבנו אם אין” - “Is HaShem inside us (i.e. an integral part of us) or not.” Understandably this, the last, is the greatest test of them all because it is the one that gives truth to all that we had already achieved.

Whoever has been following all the postings in this topic has to be aware of how true it is that in describing what Jews had to and did undergo we have given accurate description of what gerut – conversion is. The most pronounced difference I would say is, “for Jews it was a collective experience, and necessarily so because it was as a People, while for us it will always be as individuals, even were we to do it collectively.” This notwithstanding, each represents a magnificent facet of what the redemptive process entails.

It’s important to understand that our leaving Egypt was the beginning of the redemptive era, not solely for us but for all mankind and creation. For the Jew it is inherent in his creation through his forefathers, while for Gerim – converts it’s their recognition of how inherent it is in creation. Furthermore, while leaving Egypt is the story of Bnei Yisrael’s – the Children of Israel’s redemption, the Exodus - our being redeemed - was the means to usher in the Era of Redemption for all mankind and creation.

To express it succinctly, “Man [who Pharaoh and Egypt represents] wants domination: God wants dominion.

* * *
Next week in the Torah reading we’ll meet Yithro, the paradigmatic Ger - convert, and one to whom both we and Jews are deeply indebted.

B’Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer

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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:09 pm

Shalom,

When I talked about the ‘Xtian inside me’, some of this is simply acquired behavior from growing up in a Xtian and, consequently, non-Jewish world. We’re two worlds who see and understand things differently, and until sufficient time has passed and I am more absorbed in being a Jew or, at least, among Jews, then these things Xtian are, for the time being, going to be more consciously a part of me. This is both inevitable and natural, but there is another aspect which I’d like to speak about.

I want to share a story involving me which describes a facet of what I’m talking about.

When I was still in the early stages of deciding whether to convert or whether to not-convert, in having lost a job I decided to ride out the recession by returning to college. As part of my curriculum, I was studying Hebrew, which was one of the things that the rabbi had requested of me to do. The Hebrew course was strictly a college course and in no way religious. Of course, you can’t teach Hebrew without touching Torah and religious literature, but a beginner’s course doesn’t get that close to those things, even when you want to. Introductory courses teach the rudiments of grammar and usage and, until you gain some mastery, reading for substance awaits the future.

At that time I was living with my parents, and even though I knew scarcely anything about it, on Saturdays I pretended to observe Shabbat by doing as little work as possible, which in being a college student was a little easier to do. On one Saturday I was home alone eating lunch in the kitchen, and my college Hebrew textbook was open so I could study. While I was sitting there eating and studying, the door opened and my mother came into the house, accompanied by her dear friend Stella. My mother and Stella are close friends from grade school in Newark, N. J. where they grew up. Our families were friends before we children were born, they were ‘Aunt and Uncle’ to us, our families shared vacations, and etc. Stella taught history on the advanced level in my suburban high school (she would go on to get an M. A.). She, herself, is Polish and Roman Catholic, yet many of her students were Jews.

While Stella never taught me, she was always inquisitive about what I was doing, and when she saw my Hebrew textbook open she asked what I was studying, moving to my side and bending over slightly in order to see better. I replied that I was studying Hebrew, and pointing to the first letters of the alphabet I explained a little about the ‘aleph’ (ox for food), ‘beit’ (for housing), and ‘gimel’(for camel), and then I stopped (because I hadn’t been taught any more than that).

Upon stopping, I turned my head to look up over my shoulder at her, and as my eyes touched her face I suddenly could feel…really feel…two small horns (like little devil horns) telescoping from my head. On her face was her typical bemused smile, but her eyes were transfixed on some distance that wasn’t in the room. She was neither hostile nor did I feel in the least threatened or ill at ease, and I was fortunate enough to realize that I had inadvertently triggered some unknown psychological reaction in her. I casually returned to my eating, letting the incident pass and pretending as if nothing had transpired.

What’s the point I’m trying to make? By all rights this incident shouldn’t have happened. It’s the second half of the 20th century and the modern, post-Holocaust world. Seven or so years earlier (the year after I graduated high school), because the population in town had reached approximately 50% Jews, on Rosh HaShana and Yom HaKippur the public school system closed down. It was impossible to teach with so many students absent. Stella had been teaching in this school system for perhaps twenty years already. Day-in-and-day-out she worked with, taught, and, in daily life lived around Jews. Given this familiarity, how could it be that my explaining to her the most rudimentary information about the Hebrew alphabet could provoke such a reaction in her?!

This question, however, as captivating as it is, is not what really concerns us here. The purpose of telling the story of Stella is the fine example it presents of the complexity of our psychological/emotional/spiritual makeup. There are components within us, psychological/emotional/spiritual components which we acquire – and even inherit – long before we have any cognitive understanding of them. They are part of our ‘who we are’, regardless of whether we are conscious of them or not, although mostly we’re incapable of seeing them within ourselves until they surface from whichever provocation or stimulus. (Understand well that they are by no means necessarily negative, like in this situation. They can quite readily be acts of compassion or courage, etc.) What is important, however, is that they do exist.

In given that this is so, in wanting to or in having become ‘a Ger and a Jew’ what then does ‘this Xtian inside’ mean to me?

As I’ve stated in earlier postings, my coming to become a Jew was motivated by a deep desire and need to change my life, and yet, as I’ve also explained, when I first approached a rabbi it was genuinely made clear to me that I could remain the Xtian who I was while also having affinity for Jews. In this being so, there was no overwhelming or apparent reason why I should convert, especially given the tremendous challenge that is confronted in making the transformation of identity from Xtian to Jew and in becoming and living as a Jew once you do. And yet I did.

Some of the answer is that part of what was driving me was a genuine search for truth [*], not logical, analytical, dialectic truth or even philosophical truth, but the truth of life itself. Without being the scholar or even one who had investigated Xtianity, in having been born into and raised (to whatever degree) in a Xtian world, I had an intrinsic understanding that what I was looking for would not be found in the Church. Because I knew this to be so, I also knew that it would be fruitless for me to exhaustively search within the Xtianity for what wouldn’t and couldn’t be found.

Another part of the answer is that I had outgrown Xtianity. Because of decisions I made in very early childhood and because of some exceptional experiences in my life, I knew that my life held a different direction for me. If someone would have asked how and why did I know that to be true, I wouldn’t in the least have been able to answer, certainly with any answer that would have satisfied. I am not even certain that I am capable of doing so today, and I am almost 40 years down the road from when I first spoke with a rabbi. Nevertheless, being incapable of answering doesn’t mean that there are no answers, because there definitely are, it’s just that the answers lie in a domain and in dimensions which only ‘the truly religious in being’ (not simply in practice) are capable of comprehending.

To say it plainly: My religious identity would come from my pursuit of the ‘One who gives Creation existence’. For me it wouldn’t be ‘God who is contained in the house of worship’, but ‘God who is the Source of All Being’.”

Of necessity, therefore, this would demand that my life change. Not change of the kind where yesterday I turned left at the intersection to go to church and today I turn right to go to synagogue. It would be change that would literally reshape…or more accurately…actually shape the essence of my being. No small undertaking by any means, yet essential for where I was going and for what I pursued.

It was this which drove me ‘to become a Jew’. Without the slightest ability to prove why, this truth was absolutely evident to me when I first spoke with a rabbi, and in the years that have passed I have only come to discover more greatly how much this is so. Because it is, the changes and building and growing that would occur within me would mean that whatever I had been before would leave me. Unlike Stella, whose life is what it is, my life and myself would open and develop and grow in order to create the capacity for who I would become.

In previous postings, I discussed and explained how the path of the Ger, the convert, is a path that parallels what Jews needed [and need(!)] to do to become Jews. In the most basic and essential understanding, the Jew is always confronted with choice: the ongoing need to choose, and likewise so too is the Ger. This choosing is not simply a once in a lifetime choosing, because that is only the beginning. The Jew and the Ger both choose a path in life, a path that becomes their journey, and, as all of us know, the Torah is the journey of the Jew in this world.

This week we’ve come to the Torah portion of ‘Yithro’, Yithro who is definitely unique and who is the paradigm of ‘who a Ger is’. One of the most fascinating aspects of Yithro is that Yithro was literally…as Tradition teaches us…a Master of every single religious practice that existed. Whether it was the smallest, isolated form of spiritual discipline or that which absorbed the greatest people and nation, Yithro knew and experienced all of them intimately and thoroughly.

When reading commentary on Yithro, it’s made to sound like everything he did was all pagan idol worship. In a sense this is true, but mostly it’s deceiving. Spiritual discipline, i.e. understanding life in all it’s complexity, exists wherever man is, and it exists because from it and through it is how we reach and achieve understanding of our purpose and responsibility within creation.

Yithro was an incredibly knowledgeable, learned, sophisticated human being within whom burned a great desire to reach the truth of life. When Yithro experienced all the sundry and varied spiritual disciplines, his doing so gave him the ability to identify with each and every people. He didn’t condescendingly dismiss these or those as ignorant idolaters and pagans. Instead, he absorbed from them and shared with them of their lives and wisdom and humanity. And then he would move on, perhaps in desiring other experiences and perhaps in knowing that each had found answer but no one had found the answer that unifies the understanding of why and what purpose Creator and Creation exist.

When it came to the spiritual discipline of B’nei Yisrael, Yithro learned from his son-in-law, Moshe, about what Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had brought into the world. For some fifty or so years Moshe lived with Yithro and taught him, yet when the time came for Moshe to leave to take B’nei Yisrael out of Egypt, Yithro didn’t leave with him. Despite all that Moshe had taught him, whatever Yithro understood, perceived, and comprehended, seemingly this, too, remained in the category of ‘another spiritual discipline’. It hadn’t reached or touched him sufficiently that he had to experience more than what he had already experienced and absorbed in Moshe’s presence and tutelage. Only after the Exodus from Egypt is when Yithro would hear that which would change his life, as we’re taught “וישמע יתרו” – “And Yithro heard,” which we all know are the opening words of this week’s Torah reading, ‘Yithro’.

In response to whatever it was he heard, Yithro gathered Moshe’s wife (Yithro’s daughter) and Moshe’s two sons, Gersham and Eliezer, and departs to join Moshe and B’nei Yisrael in the Midbar, the desert. Exactly what it was he heard that prompted Yithro to leave consumes Chazal (the Sages), but we’ll leave this be. At the moment what’s fascinating is what Yithro heard from Moshe himself when they finally meet, because it is from these conversations which is what convinces Yithro to convert.

The Torah relates that Moshe recounts the entirety of all that God had done in taking B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) out of Egypt, and we read that Yithro’s response was, “ויחד יתרו” [I’m intentionally not translating]. About the word ‘ויחד’ the commentator Rashi explains it first as, ‘Yithro was joyous [over all that had happened], and second as ‘Yithro’s countenance reacted extremely’ when he learned about the destruction that occurred to Egypt in taking B’nei Yisrael out. Regarding this second interpretation, the Midrash comments, “it takes ten generations before Gerim stop reacting when tragedy besets the nations of the world.” The meaning of what’s being said exceeds the words that are written, but, in a nutshell, we’re looking at the phenomena of ‘our inherited psychological/emotional/spiritual inheritance’: how components of ourselves don’t leave us simply because we’ve changed allegiances and alliances!?

But this is actually only a side comment in the story of Yithro and about what brings Yithro to convert, because the Torah and Rashi teach us that immediately after this Yithro outright extols how we were saved from the tyranny and despotic cruelty of Egypt and Pharaoh. Stunningly, in response to his comprehension of exactly what has been, Yithro exclaims, “Now I know that that [your] God is greater than any other powers-that-be in creation!”

What had changed for Yithro? What had brought him to this perception? What had transformed him?

Moshe continually taught Yithro that from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob our spiritual discipline is ‘God is relationship and commitment to that relationship’ (covenant, right). Moshe had taught Yithro thoroughly and intimately about all that it means to be a Jew and what it means to have such a relationship with God. Despite this, however, from his vast and intimate experience with all the known spiritual disciplines in existence, Yithro knew that all people in creation understood their relation to their source of life to be that which provides for them. As such, in this matter, then, Jews were no different than anyone else.

Now, though, in hearing the story of redemption from the tyranny of Pharaoh and Egypt, something else was revealed. Yithro discovered that on the other side - the non-man[kind] side - of the relationship that God cares and is involved and acts for the sake of the relationship. Moreover, God’s great compassion, which is for the purpose of giving Creation existence, when it is outright challenged that [purely life giving] compassion is somehow capable of depriving opponents of their existence!?

In absorbing Moshe’s recounting, Yithro discovered himself looking at, “for Jews it isn’t solely that ‘man believes’ but equally true that ‘God believes’. Furthermore, it isn’t only that God is personal (i.e. a ‘personal God’), but that for God, too, ‘it’s personal’. If these wouldn’t be true, there could never be any relationship or mutuality.”

Our achieving this understanding of Yithro is magnificent insight into what the motivation to become a Ger, a convert, is. For many Gerim this is solely our motivation, and without any question such motivation is an extraordinary blessing!

This notwithstanding, in that Yithro is the paradigm for all Gerim, it’s worth our while to understand additional insight into Yithro.

When Moshe and Yithro reunited in the Midbar, in all that Moshe had related to Yithro about what had occurred to himself and to B’nei Yisrael in Egypt and about all that was involved in leaving Egypt, Moshe had made it exceptionally clear that leaving Egypt wasn’t for the sake of just leaving Egypt. Leaving Egypt was for the sake of mankind and Creation. It wasn’t about where we were leaving from; it was where we are going to. We are on our way to Mt. Sinai to bring the Torah into the world, in preparation for our continuing onward to inherit the Land of Israel where we’ll be establishing ‘the Kingdom where God has dominion’.

Yithro definitely was not naive and unquestionably he had already experienced kingdoms where [a] god had dominion. In fact, Moshe and B’nei Yisrael had just been extracted from such a scenario: Egypt, the superpower, was supreme among mankind when it came to god, i.e. Pharaoh, for having dominion over everything. Looking, though, at what that had wrought and brought them to, Yithro observed, “if so, why, then, should there be any expectation that Israel’s ‘Kingdom of God’ would or should or could be any different?!”

It was ‘relationship’ that convinced Yithro. He saw the reciprocity and the responsibility and the answerability. He saw within this relationship the inability for there to be domination, for should domination be attempted, let alone succeed, this relationship would fail. Master and Slave is a dead end. Yithro’s exclaiming, “[Your] God is greater than all the powers-that-be,” came in recognition that we are capable of creating a kingdom and having dominion because God’s dominion is relationship. When it is understood intimately that ‘relationship is about you, about the other’ – man about God and God about man – it becomes of itself that in the kingdom there is dominion.

Uniquely for Jews, [their] God is Unification: God and man and Creation are One.

* * *
I don’t how many, if any, have thought about it, but both are genuine and staggering questions. “Why is it that the Torah portion in which we stand a Mt. Sinai and receive the Torah is called ‘Yithro’, and why is it that the story of Yithro precedes the story of the giving and receiving of the Torah?”

* * *
As religious people everywhere think, religion is worshipping God. In this being true, the next portion of reading in the Torah should be ‘T’rumah’, where we learn about building the Mishkhan which is the predecessor to the Holy Temple we will build in the Land of Israel. After all, there has to be a place ‘to worship God in’, right. The trouble is the next Torah portion is ‘Mishpatim’, laws and legality about the baser realities of life. Hardly inspiring spirituality and decidedly a giant plummet from the loftiness of Mt. Sinai. What do we know?

B’Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer

[*] It is totally true that I never searched for religion nor for God in any conscious sense of doing so and certainly not for becoming a Jew. When I was told, “it’s possible to convert to Judaism,” I was flabbergasted. “You mean I can become a Jew?!” I replied in stunned astonishment. Changing Churches was known to me; changing religions was an eye opener!
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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Wed Feb 06, 2013 4:48 pm

Domination vs Dominion

Inherent in life is “Man possesses one perfection: he is perfectly imperfect.” Within this inherent truth exists “Man is sacred, although the proper word in Hebrew, ‘קדוש’, of which ‘sacred’ or ‘holy’ are simply attempts to express what ‘קדוש’ means.”

We won’t get bogged down in this, however, because ‘קדוש’ is less something that we can explain than it is something that we’ve got to comprehend of ourselves, primarily because it’s not outside: not ‘external mind-knowledge’; it’s inside: ‘internal soul-comprehension’. As such, it’s what we recognize as ‘our life’s homework’. If we don’t, then why do we consider…let alone outright choose…converting at all?!

Two postings up, we recall mentioning: “There are those who convert to escape Xtianity. (In that I’m speaking to the western world, I’m focusing on Xtianity). There are those who convert to align themselves with the Jewish world. There are those who convert to become actively part of the Jewish world. There are those who convert to become Jews.” In continuing these thoughts we said, “In terms of these times, this delineation is self-evident, because today’s Jews define themselves these ways, right.”

It’s necessary to understand that were this delineating not true for Jews, then it would never and could never be true for converts. It would and could only be either ‘non-Jew’ or ‘Jew’, after all if we stopped somewhere along the way how would we fit in and belong? By way of example, imagine if we’d marry in the same manner, i.e.: “I only want to leave my previous life.” “I simply want to be in your presence.” “I really want to do the things you do.” “I want to be one with you.” As we all know, all these kinds of marriages exist, yet we also know the last of these unions, “I want to be one with you,” is what marriage is supposed to be.

Furthermore, three postings ago in “Bunkering Down”, we shared:

“…“But before you began converting, when you didn’t know a Reform rabbi from an ultra-Orthodox one, don’t you remember…” and I stopped as I saw her expression change.

Of a sudden, this sweet, young woman was ‘back there in those pristine days and times and moments’ when all she knew and all that she wanted was ‘to be a Jew’…whatever that meant…


As we see from that exchange, regardless of who we converts or potential converts are and where we come from, the very beginning of wanting to convert is ‘it’s all about wanting to be a Jew…whatever that means?! There is no differentiation then and there. It’s only the confusion among Jews about ‘who a Jew is’ [not: ‘Who is a Jew’] is what confuses us and leads us…wherever.

Also, as I shared in “Bunkering Down”, my entry into becoming a Jew was the modern-Orthodox world, with an admitted inclination toward the ultra-Orthodox world, about which today I have moved well past each of these as we understand them. As example, way back then when I was beginning, because the rabbis of the synagogue were genuinely religious, I would do as they did because I, too, was genuine in wanting to become a Jew. Once it happened to me that after I had finished my prayers, as is required, while bowed at the waist I stepped backward three steps. A member of the congregation noticed what I did, and turned to me saying, “We don’t do that (i.e. bow so [demonstratively] low), and he quick-nodded his head to show me what we do do.”

Thankfully, I was still too caught up in my prayers to immediately absorb what he was saying, but I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “What do you care?…and besides this is exactly what the rabbis do. Who are you to tell me that I can’t pray like this?” Thank God, I’d already acquired a measure of ‘his kind of Jew’, one who only wanted to join the social culture of the synagogue but who had no desire to accept any of it as real and having genuine meaning. We all recognize them, the ‘stand when everyone stands, sit when everyone sits, sing when they sing, mumble a little bit of the Hebrew-you-don’t-understand-anyway when they pray, suffer or enjoy the rabbi’s speech, but make sure you talk with those around you at every opportunity: those that’s-all-there-is-to-being-a-Jew’ Jews. Iggerant goy as I was about most things Jew in life, I had enough respect for myself to know that’s not what I came here to be.

And in knowing that, doing as I did was literally trial-by-fire, because in the synagogue I started in there were no corners – absolutely none at all; it was impossible to hide. Worse, because of severe space restrictions, the synagogue was not only round but it was built in amphitheater design. Everyone could literally see everyone else – bar none, and this was one of, if not, the modern-Orthodox synagogue [community] in NYC where everyone came ‘to see and be seen’! I sincerely promise that it certainly was not what I chose or would even have chosen for myself, but God, in being God, has a most curious sense of humor and accompanies it with an astounding flair for the dramatic. In that I really didn’t know one synagogue and community from any other, God, who does, decided to choose for me.

All of us who travel this journey have to begin somewhere…and I, with God’s great blessing started there and that way. He knew I’d have made a pitiful figure as a wallflower. Who ever saw wallflowers teeming with life that Gerim have?

Little could I know then that that beginning would bring me to this.

Eight years ago, when I had to eulogize my father in a church (permissible), I first spoke a little about myself saying, “…that because of who I am and where I am, what I am and where I came from, that I feel obligated to talk a little bit about that. It is always a question of how I…coming from this church and my background…got to where I am today. Know that had I been born to the Pope, I would have gotten to where I am; it is what I was meant to do. It’s the path that I was meant to follow in life…” and I concluded these thoughts…“It isn’t a question of which religion is right. Each and every one of us wants a better world, a world full of prosperity, wellbeing, and real peace,” asking, “To whom does Jerusalem belong…,” answering myself, “…to God. He’s waiting, waiting for all of us to help make it a Holy City.” After this I eulogized.

As I talked, I had the impression of light filling this solemn edifice, and afterward, as I reflected, I realized that I had never seen so much light in church [neither this church nor the Church] when I was growing up.

More significantly, as the days of my visit and mourning continued and I continued to think and reflect, perceive and comprehend, I realized that just as my father had fled ‘darkness
’ [of the coal-mining world he came from] so had I. While his darkness was real, physical darkness, however much its sources lay elsewhere, my darkness was the source itself. I realized that I had left the darkness of the Church.

For me, this which I’ve just described is the Xtianity that I left or was leaving in my becoming a Jew. As much, however, as leaving was always in my consciousness, when I turned in the direction of becoming a Jew, it itself was never my motivation. For, as I’ve recounted in earlier postings, it was made genuinely clear to me at the very beginning that ‘I didn’t have to convert’, i.e. leave Xtianity in order to have an affinity for Jews. Why I didn’t [and couldn’t] accept this is because my motivation wasn’t about where I was coming from; it was about where I was going to’. As the result of tremendous personal experiences, I recognized that I was propelled by deep inner light within me – light searching for its source. What could ever be a more simple and obvious motivation for choice of journey?

So what does all this bring us to?

As we’ve learned from the teachings of Maimonides, the journey of a Ger, a convert, is parallel to the journey of a Jew. The journey of a Jew is the Jew whom Maimonides speaks about: the Jew who was enslaved in Egypt and who was redeemed from his enslavement, which in order to do so required the Jew to choose. Identically, one who comes to convert, to become a Ger and a Jew must also, like the Jew, choose, and each choosing is the same choosing: accepting the Sanctity of the Torah, circumcision (for males), and immersion in a mikveh. This doesn’t simply mean that what makes a Jew a Jew is also what makes a Ger a Jew, but, most importantly, that just as this was the beginning for Jews, so, too, this is the beginning for Gerim [pl.]. “We’ve reached the beginning.” – because the purpose of choosing is for what comes after, not merely for the act itself.

But just what does ‘choosing’ mean?

My presumption is that anyone who has been following this topic knows that God or ‘God and Moshe’ took B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) out from under the domination of Pharaoh and out of Egypt. Like we just did, Torah itself differentiates between Pharaoh and Egypt, despite that it also understands them to be indivisible. Those who have learned Torah - and the more Torah the better - know that in general rarely are we ever taught about the significance of differentiating between Pharaoh and Egypt, even though the Torah, as it’s necessary, does differentiate between them. For our sakes, I’m deliberating emphasizing that there is a difference, because it is understanding the difference between Pharaoh and Egypt which enables us to understand what it means ‘to choose’.

Clearly we were meant to leave Egypt, and we all know that our leaving Egypt is called, Exodus, or in Hebrew ‘יציאת מצרים’ – Leaving Egypt. In reality, however, from Pesach – Passover, we know that ‘יציאת מצרים’ - the Exodus is about ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption. ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption, means that something ‘is transformed and transcends’. In terms of bondage, servitude, and enslavement, as in Pharaohic Egypt, our going from being enslaved to being free is ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption.

One thing must be made very clear to all of us. Had there only been annihilating Pharaoh and Egypt or, alternatively, mass transporting B’nei Yisrael outside the boundaries and clutches of Pharaoh and Egypt they – separately or together - could not accomplish ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption!?

In one sense, that ‘it transforms’, then ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption can be compared to the birth process. All the time the fetus is in uteros, i.e. unborn, it is incapable of being an autonomous, independent, functioning being. Birth is redemptive. It is the transformation from inescapable dependency to autonomy. Unequivocally, in Egypt we were an enormous assemblage of individual Jews, whom we know as Bnei Yisrael – the Children of Israel, by virtue of our reaching the critical mass [600,000] we were transformed into a people, Am Yisrael – the People of Nation of Israel. In this is where we underwent ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption on the level of ‘transformation’.

But ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption is far greater than physical transformation; it transcends: it is outright reveals essence. Through ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption our essence was revealed: we reached the revelation of ‘who we are’ - we achieved our sovereignty of being. Unlike a caterpillar who is never a butterfly, however much he leads to the butterfly, we are always sovereign in being. When we are not, it is solely because the revelation of our sovereignty has not been revealed within us.

And this is exactly the reason why there is a distinction made between Pharaoh and Egypt. Our Exodus from Egypt required first that within Egypt we would have to achieve ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption from Pharaoh. Our bondage, servitude, and enslavement to Pharaoh could only be overcome when our sovereignty of being was revealed within or under his dominion, i.e. where his domination reigns supreme. To state it plainly and simply: When I am a sovereign being, i.e. when I have dominion over myself, then it’s impossible for anyone to dominate and subjugate me ‘as a person’. They can physically make my life living hell, up to and even outright annihilating me physically, however, when I have sovereignty of person, they can never conquer nor annihilate my person, i.e. the essence of who I am.

It’s not difficult for us to comprehend what we’re talking about or understand how great a challenge this is. Consider, though, if we take a moment to recall the story of Abraham whose first test was being thrown into the fire by Nimrod, we understand that ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption literally began at the dawn of the history of Jews, just as it begins ours as potential Gerim, converts. As we all know, every potential convert is dissuaded in attempt to push us off when he or she first broaches becoming a Jew. We’re told how hard and demanding it is to be a Jew, how Jews have endured so much, how great a struggle it is, and so forth. What if, instead of all this, they would tell us exactly what we’ve just said now. “Do you know that becoming a Jew means, when the time comes, doing exactly the same thing Abraham did with Nimrod and what Six Million of his descendents did in our generation?”

If we were told this beforehand, would we still want to become Jews?!

But this is what it’s all about: ‘Being a Jew is the struggle for the revelation of sovereignty of being, period. Everything else, absolutely everything else is impossible until and unless we achieve ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption: ‘sovereignty of being’. When we do, then nothing is impossible, which is what we proved at Mt. Sinai in our bringing the Torah into this world!?

I had never been my intentions to go here, at least not as I have, but things have a way of unfolding - and always with a definite purpose. In this being the case, we’ve reached in our learning that the purpose of being a Jew is ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption: the revelation of our sovereignty of being. It commenced with Abraham, was transmitted through every Jew in each generation, and with Pharaoh and Egypt it burst into the world’s consciousness. The nations of the world came face to face with: one, that we exist, two, what our existence is, and, three, what our purpose in existence is: Jews are here to bring ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption to Creation and existence.

We’ve said a lot, and I admit that if this is the first time we’re learning this material that it is challenging to comprehend and absorb everything. Moreover, if we’ve never had the experience with this kind of thinking and analyzing, it’s very frustrating trying to follow. Worse, should we go ask Jews about this, most may very well tell us, “is this guy crazy or something?” (because unfortunately maybe the only redeeming they know is paychecks and stocks and bonds), but the Jews who genuinely know will tell us it’s true. Again, it truly is a lot, and we’ve only said it in a nutshell.

Of course, in it’s being only in a nutshell, as is true about so many things in our becoming Jews, no matter what and how much we learn before we become a Jew, it never in any way, shape, or form is ever capable of preparing us for what we’ll learn after we become a Jew. There is no question that being a Ger and then reaching as a Jew for ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption: the revelation of our sovereignty of being is a tremendous challenge and struggle. And while today I can give over this teaching today with relative clarity, it has taken me many, many years to acquire understanding it myself. Along the way, when reckoning with all that Gerim confront, from time to time I would recall something to help pick me up when I needed it (although I no longer need it today).

Bill Mauldin (if you don’t know, look him up!), who was a WWII front-line combat soldier and also a fine cartoonist, had created to two characters, Willie and Joe, common front line combat soldiers, one an enlistee the other a draftee. Together Willie and Joe spoke for all those like them who struggled and endured and suffered while fighting that war. One of my most favorite Willie and Joe cartoons is where they’re soaking wet, cold, huddled in a wet, muddy foxhole complaining miserably, when the draftee turns to the enlistee and says, “Watcha complianin’ for. Ya volunteered, dintcha?”

From time to time I would look at myself, the convert, and say exactly the same thing.

Okay, we’re almost there, but not quite yet. All that we’ve learned has been necessary so that we can have at least some understanding of the this week’s Torah portion, ‘Mishpatim’.

My previous posting of a week ago closed with these lines.

As religious people everywhere think, religion is worshipping God. In this being true, the next portion of reading in the Torah should be ‘T’rumah’, where we learn about building the Mishkhan which is the predecessor to the Holy Temple we will build in the Land of Israel. After all, there has to be a place ‘to worship God in’, right. The trouble is the next Torah portion is ‘Mishpatim’, laws and legality about the baser realities of life. Hardly inspiring spirituality and decidedly a giant plummet from the loftiness of Mt. Sinai. What do we know?”

Whether we’ve given, are giving, or will be giving this thought, the question that’s posed is a very fine example of ‘how to look at Torah in a way or with eyes that provoke us to really and genuinely think about what’s there’. It’s only when we become ‘why’s guys’ is when we become capable of learning anything, and especially Torah.

The Torah portion of ‘Mishpatim’ is just what we’ve said it is, all about various and sundry laws and legalities that seem to be on the bottom of the legal totem pole. This is proved right in the opening lines, which is also the very first law, in this week’s reading. The second pasuk (sentence) teaches us about an ‘עבד עברי’ - Eved Ivri, about a Jew who has been sold into slavery [to another Jew (obviously)], either by the courts in order to pay for what he’s stolen or by himself to pay off excessive debt he’s incurred through financial mismanagement or misfortune. He is not property like a non-Jew slave would be, but his is definitely a master/slave relationship and he has many limitations, although not all those that a non-Jew slave has.

Have we caught on yet?

We have just finished standing at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah, about which we learned above…“But this is what it’s all about: ‘Being a Jew is the struggle for the revelation of sovereignty of being, period. Everything else, absolutely everything else is impossible until and unless we achieve ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption: ‘revelation of sovereignty of being’. When we do, then nothing is impossible, which we proved at Mt. Sinai in our bringing the Torah into this world!?”

Still haven’t caught on?

Receiving the Torah was made possible solely because of ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption: ‘revelation of sovereignty of being’, and yet here, in the very beginning of the first Torah portion after Mt. Sinai, we’re learning about a Jew who is a slave. We were redeemed from the Master/Slave domination relationship of Pharaoh and Egypt, yet immediately we’re already involved with the Master/Slave domination relationship of Jew and Jew. It absolutely cannot be…but it is!? Now we understand the question.

Wrong…because, of course, we don’t! It’s not our lacking intelligence, however, it’s our lacking an important piece of information. According to Chassidut, this law of ‘עבד עברי’ Eved Ivri, the Jew who is a slave’, this law’s not coming to teach us about the slave. It’s coming to teach us about the master of that slave – of that slave who is a Jew! That master is not allowed to be ‘a master’, not allowed to dominate.

Now we can close.

This teaching, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is the hardest of all things for us to learn. First, the very fact that the Torah begins with it immediately after Mt. Sinai teaches us this is so, and, second, the Torah is using a relationship which has built into it all the pitfalls of domination. We’re not talking about an employer-employee relationship where ostensibly we’re free to go. No slave of any kind is ever free to go; 24/7 he’s a slave (in terms of his limitations and obligations as a ‘Jew who is a slave’. A non-Jew slave is the slave as we know him.) Can there be any greater temptation to dominate and abuse than when you have in your legal control someone who is legally subservient to you?

The Torah wants the Master - and through the master ‘us’ - to know that nothing has changed. The ‘revelation of sovereignty of person’ that took us out from under the domination of Pharaohic Egypt remains that same ‘revelation of sovereignty of person’ in both the master and the slave. They are both Jews; nothing in essence has changed. Except…

…taking Jews out of Pharaohic Egypt is one thing. Keeping the influence of Pharaohic Egypt out of Jews is another.

Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer
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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:37 pm

Jew & Ger & God

We’ve asked the question, “What’s wrong with ‘עבד עברי’ – Eved Ivri, the Jew who is sold into slavery to a Jew?”…and we’ve answered, “It’s a master-slave relationship, a relationship which has built into it all the pitfalls of domination for the master. Can there be any greater temptation to dominate and abuse than when you have in your legal control someone who is legally subservient to you?

What, however, about the slave himself…about the ‘עבד עברי’ – Eved Ivri, the Jew who is a slave? Is it possible that he’s only coming to teach us about the master? Didn’t he, too, stand at Mt. Sinai? Isn’t he, too, part of the relationship which took us out of Egypt and brought us to Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah? How is it possible that he relinquishes his ‘revelation of sovereignty of being’? Ah, but we’ll say, “He didn’t intend to run afoul of the law and get caught stealing,” or “it’s not his fault he’s financially inept and bankrupted himself,” (the two reasons a Jew is sold into slavery).

Our answers are plausible and most likely true, since he and we both know his servitude is for limited time. A Jew who is sold into slavery goes free in the sixth year (i.e. at the onset of the seventh year, the shmitah year). Curiously, though, if the master gives to the ‘עבד עברי’ – Eved Ivri, the Jew who is a slave, a non-Jew female slave for a wife (so that they can produce non-Jew slaves), when his servitude ends he leaves but the female non-Jew slave (with offspring) remains the property of the master. If the Jew slave says, “I love my wife; I’m not leaving,” the master takes him to the door of the house, stands him against the door post, and drives an awl though his ear into the door post. The Jew remains a Jew slave, with his ear bearing the mark of disgrace at why he is so.

Even though what we’ve said is true, it’s not as simple as it sounds. When we all will be blessed to learn Torah and become erudite Torah scholars, we’ll know what it’s all about. Until then, we can, in the meantime, at least consider what we’ve said, “this Jew becoming a slave was not intentional at all.” Here, however, we see that this Jew ‘chooses to be a slave’! Where does that come from?! Is he an anomaly…or is he really no different than any one of us?

If the ‘master’ is coming to teach us about the pitfalls of domination, then the slave is coming to teach us about the pitfalls of, “is my freedom negotiable?”

Seemingly, this is not even a question, because ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption is that we are always sovereign in being. After all, being a Jew is the struggle for the revelation of sovereignty of being, period. Apparently for him - the Jew who ‘chooses to be a slave’- it is not, for as we’ve learned, when it is not this is solely because it has not been revealed [b]within us[/b]. But he stood at Mt. Sinai, where along with everyone else in his getting there and being there he reached ‘the revelation of sovereignty of being’, and like us he also knows this!?

As experience, yes, he does; as immutable reality, no, he doesn’t.

I don’t know whether this is true for anyone else, but for me I know there’s a ‘DANIEL’ and there’s a ‘daniel’. There’s a me when I’m fully empowered with the fullness of ‘who I am’, and there’s a me wandering around wondering, “Who am I?” – and we’re both components of the same person!? There are people who when I am in their presence it brings out the most in me, and there are people who when I’m in their presence it’s like being without existence. Life is fluid and seemingly I flow with it, nevertheless had I been blessed to be standing there front and center in God’s presence listening to God giving over the Torah, I would think that I would have been fixed once and forever.

Like Jews, I would have been…and I wouldn’t have been. This is why it isn’t without reason that we learn about ‘the master and the slave’ right after Mt. Sinai. The Torah knows that between what the mind achieves and between what the heart fulfills is often an enormous gulf. Getting Jews to Mt. Sinai was a struggle; keeping them there…

…and we have to know, neither are we - we Gerim - immune from this. Whether we like it or not, admit it or not, or even are aware of it or not…we live in a world of external and internal domination and submission…a reality that often it’s only for blessed moments or intermittent periods of time when are we liberated from it.

The struggle for the revelation of sovereignty of being, which we’ve learned exists within us, is our relationship with the Source of All Being, regardless of whichever names we use when describing the source that gives us ‘life itself’. The truth, as we all know, is that the most inner, intimate conversation we can have from within ourselves reveals to us just how impossible it is to describe with a name. Like someone we love so much, the closer we are to them, the more indescribable they become. We perceive them more from within than from without…a oneness that overwhelms.

As we mentioned last week, the Torah portion of Mishpatim is the dregs of legality and jurisprudence. If selling a Jew into slavery doesn’t make us shudder at how much someone has fallen, it’s a measure of how low our supply of compassion is, and if this is true it’s no surprise then about all the laws that follow ‘עבד עברי’ – Eved Ivri, the Jew who is sold into slavery to a Jew. It’s not merely he who’s fallen; we are not such holy angels ourselves, for after all who doesn’t like bargains? Someone among us is going to acquire this bargain Jew, an ‘intelligent slave’, one who comes complete with Torah and mitzvot (he’s required to observe and keep) and who doesn’t need to be trained about Jews, unlike an non-Jew slave. His misfortune is our fortune. There’s good profit to be made on this deal!

It’s hard to tell who’s fallen further – the abused or the abuser, which is what the continuation in Mishpatim is: who’s taking advantage of whom, who’s disrespectful, who’s neglectful, who’s deceitful, and who’s abusive. “I must say, ‘a fine collection we’ve got here’.”

There’s a good question we should ask ourselves, “Why is it that in the world of law we speak about crime and punishment, but in the world of medicine we speak about sickness and healing? Don’t both law and medicine deal with malfeasance and abuse, regardless of cause? Yet in the first we’re ‘criminals’ – to be judged and punished, while in the second we’re ‘patients’ – to be diagnosed and treated.”

When I opened this topic, I related that I converted thirty-six years ago, and while it was known to me even before I converted, I honestly have to say that it’s taken probably the majority of my life as a Ger until compassion could entirely overwhelm and saturate me thoroughly. Torah – which is the source of everything – is only compassion. When the Torah talks about law and about courts and so forth, if we are unaware that compassion precedes and infuses everything (it’s all created with ‘רחמים’ – Rachamim, compassion, right), then we’re going to be totally and hopelessly lost. It’s not that it’s not possible to impose or project ‘an authoritarian God of Judgement’ when looking at Torah. It’s just that it’s not true. (The ‘authoritarian God of Judgement’ comes from sources that are not Torah nor have anything to do with Torah. Any Jew who tells you it does is, nebech, either terribly ignorant, terribly angry, terribly depressed, or terribly disconnected from being a Jew.)

When we care about others, really, really care about them (and we do), when they go astray we want them to straighten out and fix themselves. We want them to return and to restore what’s been between us. The Torah, too, is same way. In one sense it guides us to keep us going correctly, but equally it’s there to help us return and restore. Fascinatingly, Mishpatim is the proof.

The Torah is neither naive nor oblivious to what kinds of low-lifes we can be, nevertheless the Torah is constantly healing and fixing us. Immediately after Mt. Sinai and receiving the Torah, the Torah is telling us about ‘עבד עברי’ – Eved Ivri, the Jew who is sold into slavery to a Jew’ and everything that comes in its aftermath. “You think you’re above it, you think you’re cured of it, you think you can’t fall that low…”

…and then when we do, “where are you going now…how are you getting there?” And do not think it’s about ‘behavior for behavior’s sake’; it’s about consciousness – continually elevating consciousness.

This week’s Torah reading is ‘Trumah’, where we begin learning about building the ‘משכן’ – Mishkhan, the Tabernacle. In contradiction to what all of us know about design and architecture and building, the Torah commences its instruction by telling us how to build what’s going to be inside the completed structure!? Not only that, what we first learn about is the ‘ארון’ – the Aron, which is the chest which will contain the Stone Tablets and the Torah Scroll. Covering the ‘ארון’ – the Aron is the ‘כפורת’ – the Kaporet, the solid gold cover which is molded with two solid gold ‘כרובים’ – Cherubs (no possible translation) standing on it. The ‘ארון’ – the Aron is going to be the essence of the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the ‘משכן’ – Mishkhan, the Tabernacle. As everyone know, on top of the ‘ארון’ – the Aron between the two solid gold ‘כרובים’ - Cherubs is where we will communicate with the Source of All Being.

So here, in having finished Mishpatim - which is all that we’ve described it to be in its focus on ‘what shouldn’t be but what very well is going to be’… we reach Trumah and immediately we’re in the innermost, intimate part of the ‘משכן’ – Mishkhan, the Tabernacle – the place where we are literally going to be face-to-face with the Divine. It’s impossible to have any closer proximity. It makes absolutely no sense: Mt. Sinai to Mishpatim toTrumah? It just can’t be, but it is!?

Do we remember learning about Yithro and what Yithro discovered that made him finally commit himself and join Am Yisrael, the Jewish People, and convert? Remember that Yithro learned about relationship, that God is all and only about relationship (real relationship which is what covenant is). That it is relationship which brought God into Egypt in order to take us out? That it is relationship which causes God to never let go of us and abandon us – and we Him? Do we know where the proof to this is? Trumah - where the first thing we learn is that God is only waiting to be with us, only waiting to be close.

But we have to know something else.

Although we didn’t speak about it when we were learning about Yithro, the paradigmatic Ger, when the Torah teaches that Yithro came to the Midbar, to the desert [Shemot 18:5], in explaining why Yithro left the epitome of civilization to go to the total desolation of the Midbar, Rashi says, “נדבנו לבו” – his heart is overwhelmingly overflowing. (This is the place in the Torah where we learn the uniqueness of ‘who Yithro is’, but that learning is not for this topic here, however much it is essential to Gerim.)

Along comes this week’s portion, Trumah, which opens with Moshe informing us what materials are needed for building the ‘משכן’ – Mishkhan, the Tabernacle. Moshe begins by announcing, “take from every person who is ‘ידבנו לבו’ – whose heart is overwhelmingly overflowing.”

Do we understand what the Torah is giving over to us.

When we started this topic: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me - this Jew I am looking at and for?” we commenced at the beginning of Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus. As we’ve learned, Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus, is about the purpose of being a Jew: one, ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption: the revelation of our sovereignty of being and, two, Jews are here to bring ‘גאולה’ Geulah – Redemption to Creation and existence.

The road to the realization of these truths intersects with Yithro (the paradigmatic Ger) before we get to our destination, Mt. Sinai (and receiving the Torah), and after when we begin our preparation for the Land of Israel and fulfilling our destiny. It is in Trumah where we discover what is necessary and what makes if possible for Jews and Yithro [Gerim] to come together in unity with the Source of All Being: “take from every person who is ‘ידבנו לבו’ – whose heart is overwhelmingly overflowing.”

It’s where we – we and the Source of All Being – meet, our hearts overwhelmingly overflowing.

Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer
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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Tue Feb 19, 2013 5:14 pm

Conclusion

When creating this topic, ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me - this Jew I am looking at and for?” I had absolutely no idea where it would go and how. However, in wanting to give over to others (which is why I write), I’ve learned to have the belief that I’ll be given what to say and how to say it. Saying, “I knew none of this beforehand,” is probably not believable and even preposterous to most, despite that from everything that was posted we discovered how both it and we are connected to the Torah, especially to the portion we were reading that week. Even though it’s true, it’s too strange to accept ‘learning Torah when not knowing’. We are so used to learning from those ‘who know’, that when someone gives over Torah without so-called ‘knowing Torah’, i. e. that Torah isn’t simply knowledge, challenges us. The proof that this isn’t all that Torah is and that Torah isn’t simply knowledge comes from, of all people, a Ger. That Ger, of course, is the paradigmatic Ger – Yithro.

Any of us who have been around a little while know that Jews commonly refer to Yithro [slightingly] as ‘a pagan idol worshiper’. (Thank God, we ourselves have learned this a little more intelligently.) How many Jews, however, have you ever heard say, “How long does it take before a ‘pagan idol worshiper’ can tell even Moshe Rabbainu Torah? – one day, right. The day after he converts Yithro is telling Moshe Rabbainu how to set up a system for teaching all of Am Yisrael Torah.” It is the Torah itself which is teaching us that no one exclusively knows Torah, not even Moshe Rabbainu.

Obviously Yithro was teaching Moish Torah on a very high level, because Yithro himself was a person of great stature, but that’s not the point. The point is that if you convert, then it’s proof that you have a real and genuine connection to Torah. You have to work at it, of course. Torah is not a newspaper or a magazine, anymore than it’s the writings of an expert-of-experts on who-knows-what. Torah’s entirely different altogether. Torah is the ‘Source of Life’ because it comes from the ‘Source of All Being’. The greatness of Moshe Rabbainu is upon hearing something he knows when it is coming from God, even if it’s from an ‘ex-pagan idol worshiper’ (or others).

Because this is all true, the blessing for us is we’ve learned Torah as seen through the eyes of a Ger, which were my opening lines to this topic. We Gerim had the courage to ask an essential question about ourselves, and then attempt to answer it by looking at Jews. One can think and say anything one wants about Gerim, but there is no question at all that the Torah is about and for Jews. Starting from this supposition that ‘the Jew’ and ‘the Ger’ are two discrete, disparate entities, we’ve discovered through the Torah ‘where each comes from’ and ‘where they unite’. This is no small achievement, and understandably we are truly blessed.

In our having done this, together we have answered the essential question; it is its development which we all must learn for ourselves – Jews and Gerim alike. Because this is so, it’s the proper time to conclude my postings by ending this topic with the portion Trumah.

From what we learned in Trumah, we recognize that the continuation within the Torah is no longer necessary for helping us answer our question: “Is this me - this Jew I am looking at and for?” From Trumah, the continuation of the Torah is my becoming ‘who I am’. Just as it is true for Jews, so, too, is it true for Gerim. Sadly, Jews today mostly answer the Infinite (uppercase ‘I’ intentional) ‘who I am’ with the finite ‘what I am’. Our blessing as Gerim is that the Infinite question is open before us, because we understand that it’s our life that we are looking at.

On a personal note, it has been a considerable time since I have done any posting and writing of this kind, and even I had forgotten the noticeable difference between myself and what others write. In truth, what I write belongs more in the world of blogging or publishing than it does in forums like these. We’re at different places in life, and the differences are felt.

Still, whether what I’ve shared has had value and merit, we nevertheless have learned from it. Simply in our addressing the question – a question that has outright begged to be asked for a very long time - has been worthwhile. We will never be capable of growing – neither as human beings nor as Gerim nor as Jews – until and unless we challenge ourselves and our understandings of ourselves.

Pertaining to Gerim, at some point I would write regarding converting: “Regarding what you know and what you need and want to learn, you'll never know all that you'll need to know. Some day at some point you'll be comfortable enough and realize that what you know allows you to make whichever decision YOU HAVE to make, whether it be 'Yes, convert' or 'No, don't convert'. If you want to be a Jew you have to look very, very deeply inside yourself...inside to your deepest inner heart to see if it's true for you. It is only there that you'll find what is the answer, and when you do then you'll know what to do. Just understand one thing: the only wrong answer is to choose that which is wrong for you.

If you’ve followed all of my postings here, you will understand just how much what I’ve just said infuses everything. Being a Ger/Jew is an absorbing challenge, but it is my life – life that I choose. The commitment I made when choosing is visible in everything I do and write. I cannot deny that this being so is often to the consternation of others who aren’t so constructed and who haven’t so chosen, but to do less or otherwise would give lie to all that I have chosen and choose. Greatly, doing less has just not been given to me, despite the many and genuine failures that I must admit and own up to.

All who have followed the postings in this topic are cognizant that I have attempted to adhere closely to the Torah in all that I have written, especially in revealing how what’s being said is eminently visible in the respective weekly portion of the Torah that we’re reading at the moment. Aside from our references to Aaryah Maayanot’s topic where he relates to the halachic work of Maimonides, we have remained entirely focused on the written Torah, specifically the first seven portions of Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus. There are any number of reasons for our doing so, and undoubtedly among them exists the recognition that ‘this is who I, Daniel Eliezer, am’.

Without question I was blessed to absorb from Jews whose lives are only Torah and whose great love of Torah was given over to me. These are the people who have influenced me and who have taught me; people who have given me life, because they have shared with me through Torah their love of life and of living. I cannot be considered a genuine student of anyone of them, but each has had a profound impact upon my life. In whatever they have given me or I have gleaned from them, it can be found woven into the fabric of my thoughts, and even I don’t know how much that is so.

But we have to know that there is something about Torah that absolutely no one teaches us. If someone asks me, “Have you ever read the works of so-and-so?” I would respond, “Who is so-and-so?” The answer, of course, would be, “Read him or her and find out.” What is meant is that by reading what he or her writes is how I am going to learn who he or she is, how he or she thinks, and what he or she is all about (regardless of whether or not he or she has written his or her autobiography). If I don’t read so-and-so, then whenever I need to know about so-and-so I’ll have to ask others. I myself will never really know who so-and-so is, and because I won’t whatever I’ll be told will always be about him or her - never him or her , regardless of the accuracy of the information. Until I discover for myself who so-and-so is, he or she will always be whoever others tell me he or she is in their understanding – but not in my unique understanding.

The comparison to learning Torah is obvious. We learn Torah to learn about the author, to learn about the Source of All Being - from the Source of All Being. It is this which is what no one ever tells us.

I’ll leave it at that and only offer one piece of advice. When we study and learn Torah, we have to look for the compassion in what we’re learning. We may have to struggle, sometimes even years (and I have), until we achieve it, but when we do we’ll see and understand how and why Torah opens for us. If the Torah we’re learning is harsh and bitter and intolerable, it’s proof that we’re not learning Torah correctly or not learning it from the correct person. Torah is always sweet (genuine sweetness, not syrupy yuck): it’s meant to heal and fix even when it appears otherwise – which is all that that is: ‘otherwise’. When this happens it means ‘we’re perplexed’. We have been brought to the recognition that there is that which we don’t yet comprehend and understand. It’s God’s way of helping us grow and heal and be fixed: of helping us become ‘who we are’ – the greatest of God’s blessings.

Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer
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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Tue Feb 19, 2013 6:23 pm

I find your posts to be very interesting.

As you mentioned, I'm not sure if a "forum" is the right place, but I'm glad to read your posts.

Do you have a blog?
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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Tue Feb 19, 2013 8:21 pm

Perhaps when I'm feeling better I will put all this together in a "sticky" thread at the top of the page, if that's alright with Daniel of course. I will leave this thread here too, for comments and discussion.
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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   Wed Feb 20, 2013 6:25 am

Searchinmyroots,

No, I do not blog, although I have been giving it serious consideration. If I do decide to, please God I'll mention it here somewhere.

Dena,

Regarding your proposal, it is certainly alright with me. Let us pray and hope that doing so will be a blessing for all of us – certainly all who come this way and especially all who stay.

Refuah Sheleimah. You're very fortunate. Purim's the best cure for what ales you. (Intentional)

Purim Sameach
Daniel Eliezer
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PostSubject: Korbanot to the Beth Din   Sat Jun 22, 2013 6:36 pm

Hereby declare my desire to accept the principles of the Jewish Religion, to follow its practices and ceremonies and to become a member of the the Jewish people.  
I do this of my own freewill with an understanding of the significants of the tenets and practices of Judaism, and full realization of the committment I herewith assume.
I pray that my present conviction may guide me through life, that I may be worthy of the ssacred tradition and fellowship...
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PostSubject: Re: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”   

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