Monica Rozenfeld moves to Brooklyn with two roommates — a Catholic and an observant Jew — and they each seek understanding of what it means to be religious.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said the other day. You told me that you’re all or nothing, and if you found that G-d exists you would be more religious than me, because how can one believe in G-d without accepting all of his commandments and abiding by all of His laws? There is so much that can be discussed and argued from your one statement and you’ve got me questioning myself, my faith, and those around me. Why don’t I see things in terms of black and white, or all or nothing, but instead my practice falls along not in shades of gray but all colors of the rainbow? I never did a 180, going from non-practicing to suddenly wearing skirts and long sleeves and praying three times a day. Because how does one do that when not knowing Hebrew, not knowing anything really? But maybe you’re right. If I believe with all my heart that there is a G-d, why do I find it acceptable that as long as I keep kosher and observe the Holy Sabbath that it’s okay for other areas to slide? That I don’t have to say all the prayers or dress modestly because I believe that there is a sliding scale and room for growth.
We (the Returners to faith) can’t be expected to do everything all at once…or maybe we can. In the Torah there is a line that says “na’aseh v’nishma” – we will do and then we will listen. That is the premise of many laws in Judaism – kosher is our best example. While many practical arguments can be made for keeping kosher – it’s believed to be healthier for our digestive system by not eating dairy and meat together; pork is more prone to having parasites, shellfish are bottom-feeders – the actual basis for keeping kosher is simple: G-d said so, and that must be enough for us. Na’aseh v’nishma – we will first act and then we will question and understand.
I know that you see the world in black and white, and maybe we all should see religion in this way, but it would be a travesty if I did a 180 and couldn’t hug you whenever I wanted. And I wonder, if I am expected (in a sense) to take on every commandment, every written and oral law, would you be able to love me? Does your patience flow so far, and your heart grow so large? You realize, dear boyfriend, that if I was a practicing Jew to that extent, we would never have met. Because my mind probably wouldn’t have been so open to agree to having coffee with you.
Dear boyfriend, I know you think I aim to change you. While I do wish that our outlooks on religion and faith could be more aligned, I don’t want to change you at all. Maybe it was so easy for my friends and I to find our faith the way we did because it seems we all have something in common – we always believed. Belief in G-d was never in question. But you – you make me question. I question my faith and the laws that my G-d gave me because you challenge me daily. And this is a test of my faith…because while Shabbat naturally spoke to me and showed me the benefits I believe it brought, I am now asking why. And I thank you immensely for that. No matter how much I question if we can stand the test of time because of our religious differences, I am very grateful for you in my life. Maybe I have taken the gift of faith and spirituality for granted because I was born believing in G-d. So thank you for questioning and challenging me. I hope it pushes me to do more. To practice more. To exemplify that which is na’aseh v’nishma.