The Freedom to Believe

The season of our unleavening cometh, and with it, my most important Passover ritual…


Tonight, I’ll sit with my kids for our annual viewing of The Prince of Egypt.


While we always choose to participate in a seder with friends and family, the film seems to reach them more deeply than the ritual. I reminded them today that Pesach is coming fast, and my youngest exclaimed “WE’RE GONNA WATCH THAT MOVIE!!”


(Please don’t tell my Bubbe.)


I refuse to lie to my kids (except about the hard truth that I did, in fact, quietly replace our family’s pet fish multiple times over the course of several years … [Daddy? Why did Dorothy turn blue?]  In the past, they’ve asked me if I believe in God, and I’ve always told them that I do. And now, as they approach the halfway point of their grade school years, their questions are becoming more pointed.


My truth: I believe in God. (Most days.)


And, I haven’t yet come to understand what this actually means.


I am acutely aware that I am part of something bigger than myself, bigger than all of us. I can feel that. I do feel that. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. I sense it when I pray, when I cry, when I make love. I feel it with abundance in my professional work, in those moments when I’m focused on trying to help others feel that same connection.


For me, the real challenge lies in the grey area between what I believe and how I believe…


I want to trust in this powerful spirituality to which I’ve been exposed, whether I’ve encountered it through conversation, formal study, or private learning. I really, really do…


Sometimes, I just can’t.


I often wonder… am I missing something that others are not?


Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend/rabbi who good-naturedly described his Passover voyage to Monsey, NY to stock his kitchen for the holiday. Some of the broader details weren’t entirely new to me – I’ve kept a kosher kitchen at home in the past - but I found his tale of this annual pilgrimage (and its implication of serious commitment to halachic minutiae as demonstrated by most of the market’s customers) to be quite amazing.


I left our meal repeating the same question in my mind: How much is enough?


Thousands and thousands make the trek to this Monsey grocery to buy hard-to-find items like kosher-for-Pesach dish soap. [*Note: the OU says Pesach-certified dish soap is not actually necessary, but nonetheless, you can buy it, and lots of people do…]


I can’t help but wonder: Am I simply not holding up my end of my God-relationship because the highest levels of ritual observance are not particularly meaningful to me? (To be clear: I intend no disrespect toward those who make such choices. I’m actually caught up in a mix of wonderment and mild jealousy… I wish that the minutia moved me more, and I am mildly envious of the enculturation that fertilizes the absolute conviction evident in such cases).


Or, am I simply still reeling from that weekend in high school when I first read Maimonides’ The Guide for the Perplexed, and encountered a God-concept that I found to be both deeply resonant and fiercely challenging?


The more I grow, the less I know.


The world is pretty screwed up for all of us these days. I need not review why… I, like you, can’t help but be aware of our current global state. Whatever your leanings, whether you’re a socio-political southpaw or otherwise, you are most certainly drenched from the daily onslaught of opinion that rains down on all of us.


At once, we push and pull at the lines that demarcate our liberty. We march, we rally, we despair, we resolve. We mourn our dead. We dream that tomorrow will be different, that we will escape the reign of whatever modern-day (occasionally orange) Pharaoh that aims to re-enact the ancient tale of our personal and communal enslavement in a dystopian fashion.


As evidenced by our long human history, this is a cyclical narrative, a story trapped in its own retelling… an ancient tome, now conveniently downloadable to your Kindle in an all-new translation.


Our lives are not simple; not cut and dry, nor black and white. (Apologies to those in our community who happen to prefer that color scheme.)


Our text teaches us that the Israelites grew weary of their desert journey (sans GPS), and suffered from what Steven Lee has aptly termed “the deadly disease of spiritual amnesia.”


Having spent some significant time internally reflecting on this, I have managed to distill my internal monologue down to this small piece of personal Torah:



When we shield ourselves from the challenges faced by others…


When we surround ourselves with insular comfort at the expense of global citizenship…


When we focus solely on the me at the expense of the we...


… that is when we've lost God.



When we open our hearts to the entirety of our divine humanity…


When we refuse to accept our world as it is…


When we turn our thoughts to the physical, spiritual, and emotional emancipation of every soul that walks this earth…


… that is when God will be found.




May this season of freedom, however we personally choose to embrace it, inspire us to recognize that our story, like our freedom, belongs to all of humanity.


Ken yehi ratzon - May it be so.


Chag sameach.