Is there, in the countless types of loneliness, any, more devastating than a person disconnected from self? Why would we advocate a relationship with God based on such a disconnect?
I recently met with a man who feels inappropriate deriving meaningful life lessons from reading biographies rather than Jewish texts. He feels alone, separate, almost an outcast from the community, when sitting miserably in a class, wishing he were sitting with a biography. His guilt prevents him from cherishing the inspiration and insights he gains from his reading. His religious upbringing, instilling a sense of community, and critical of secular books, disconnects him from himself. Why would we advocate a relationship with God based on such a disconnect?
He loved the irony in my response that my favorite ethical text is the introduction to William Manchester's second volume of Churchill's biography, "Alone." He needed permission and laughter to connect to his feelings.
A religious woman feels disconnected from her community of large (ten or more children) families that pity her for having only one child. She is one of sixteen and grew up feeling alone, never cherished as an individual. She is now even lonelier, guilty over being different. She, too, is disconnected from herself. Why would we advocate a relationship with God based on such a disconnect? (I recommend the movie, "Be Fruitful and Multiply.")
I often meet young men who continue to study Talmud despite their experience of frustration because Talmud is the most treasured learning. Each believes that, "something must be wrong with me," convinced that he is alone, the only one who prefers studying bible or philosophy. Why would we advocate a relationship with God based on such a disconnect?
When I was a little boy, I heard a rabbi teach the famous Talmudic saying, "If only Israel would observe two Sabbaths, the world would immediately be redeemed (Shabbat 118b)." The rabbi wanted us to appreciate the damage caused by non-observant Jews. "Imagine how easy it would be to test this teaching, if only every Jew would agree to observe the Sabbath!" He was displeased when I asked whether people who didn't know they were Jewish could ruin the experiment. This was the same rabbi who loved to constantly remind us that we Jews, especially the observant, are "alone" in the world.
My father zt"l read the Talmudic text differently, "If only those who keep the Shabbat would guard both parts; Shabbat itself, and how we use the week to prepare for Shabbat, we would change the world." The challenge, he explained, was not to focus on whether others observe Shabbat, but whether we know how to live in the world focused on the eternal. Someone connected to himself in such a powerful way, will never feel lonely.
"The Lord settles lonely individuals into the House (Psalms 68:7)." God's House that, "dwells in the heart of each individual," is meant to provide a place for the lonely; those disconnected from themselves. No wonder this week's portion begins with Moses gathering the entire nation to introduce the instructions for building God's House with a reminder of the preciousness of Shabbat, focusing on the eternal value of our efforts, connected in the deepest ways to ourselves.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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