Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Do you like murder mysteries?"

Yom rishon, 22 Tamuz 5773.

Holmes: Well, what do you think?
Watson (disdainfully): All that stuff about a coat -- obviously a last attempt to inject a mystery into an open and shut case against him.
Holmes (sighing): Both you and the coroner, Watson, have been at pains to single out the very points which are strongest in that young man's favor... One moment, you give him credit for too little imagination, and then for too much.  When asked what he and his father quarreled about, he couldn't even invent a reason which might have won him the jury's sympathy.  And yet, a few moments later, he evolves something so outré as a dying rat, and a vanishing coat...  Well, my dear fellow.  I shall approach this case from the hypothesis that what he says is true.  We shall see where that will lead us...


I grew up in a time and society in America where the Missouri expression "Show me" meant that I had the need to prove to myself everything, scientifically, that I claimed to believe.  This wrought havoc in my teens, as I questioned everything, and my Christian bible study teachers were simply not equipped to deal with such chutzpah.  "It's all in the Bible," they would tell me.  (It wasn't.)  "If you have to ask that kind of question, you don't have any faith."  (Okay, said my 14-year-old mind, fine.  I don't have any faith.  That was easy...)

Shortly after our conversion to Judaism in Elul of 5750 (1989), the Dearly Beloved and I were privileged to attend a special Shabbaton in the walled city of Sobernheim, Germany.  There were many Orthodox rabbis and rebbetzins, as well as a chef and cooking staff from Israel.  We had a full program of classes.  Among the interesting programs were lectures offered by speakers from the Aish HaTorah Discovery Seminar.  There were opportunities to speak to the presenters at odd hours over the several days; and eager for knowledge, the Dearly Beloved and I took advantage of those private moments.

I had a conversation early one morning with Rebbetzin Naomi Kahn that completely changed my direction (as if conversion hadn't been a drastic enough change).  I confessed to her my inability to be comfortable without being able to adequately prove G-d's existence to myself.  I knew that learning and practicing would mean growth -- but the elephant in the room was that I wasn't sure I could give myself permission to believe.

If I was expecting her guidance to be of the "just have emunah" variety, I was in for a surprise.

"Do you like murder mysteries?"  Rebbetzin Kahn's question delighted me with its apparent irreverence.  Enjoying the ostensible change of topic, I confessed to being an inveterate fan of Holmes, Poirot, Miss Marple and Gervase Fen.  She had my rapt attention.

"In a murder mystery, if the detective walks into the scene of the crime assuming that everyone might be guilty," she said, "he'll never get anywhere.  He'll never solve the crime, because everyone has something to hide.  There are motives and opportunities everywhere he looks.

"In a good murder mystery," she continued, "the detective assumes that everyone is innocent -- and waits for the ripples."  Here, Rebbetzin Kahn did a delightful fluttering of her fingers reminiscent of the heat that shimmers on a distant highway on a blazing hot day.  "Try believing that it's all true.  Just give yourself permission to believe that G-d exists... and wait for the ripples."

 At that moment, it felt as if a Sisyphus stone of responsibility was lifted off my heart and mind.  That bit of reverse logic hadn't occurred to me.  What if I just ignored the need to prove G-d to myself, and waited for the "G-d theory" to just disprove itself?

I have been happily Jewish for 24 years.  And while this inquiring mind will always have questions and internal battles...  I'm still waiting for the ripples.  The bottom line?  I might be wrong.  There might not be a G-d.  But if so, I am living a very wonderful moral-centric life, filled with an effort to better myself, to treat my fellowman with love and respect, to hold the creation in awe, and with a sense of purpose every minute of every day.  When I have challenges, I can "discuss" them with G-d, Whom I believe loves me and wants for me only good, without having to speak behind people's backs to other people. (Great therapy.  I recommend it.  And in Israel, when you walk down the street talking to yourself, people assume you are praying, rather than crazy.  Unless you dred your hair, and fail to bathe.)

As Rabbi Daniel Mechanic says, if I'm wrong, if there ends up not being a G-d, what's the worst?  But if the one who cannot accept the existence of G-d is wrong...  well, "oops" probably is not going to cut it.  So I'll take my chances on this side of the argument.  Nope, it seems not to be provable in the Missouri sense of the word, at least not yet.  But I like my life.  I like the values that my children, brought up in this faith, have chosen to adopt and even to refine.  I like the way their relationships and their children are turning out.

And if we're happy, mentally and emotionally healthy and stable...  what else do I have to prove?

This post dedicated to all of the young people I know who are struggling to find answers in an admittedly difficult time in history.  You have my prayers, my friend, for answers that will satisfy you.
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