Looking for Myself in Jerusalem

by Rabbi Jacob Rupp July 26, 2018
 

 

Hand and shadow of praying man on the stones of the ancient Western wall in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel.

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Israel for myself.  Not with a trip, not for a specific event, but for the purpose of reconnecting and rejuvenating.

In over 10 years of working in the field of Jewish education, this was a first.  Sure, I would take trips of students, which was always fun and inspiring, but I never had a moment to let the noise die down, the schedule stop and for me to just “be.”

Imagine that state of being.  I didn’t have the needs of running my household as my amazing wife had sent me off on my own.  I could just go where I wanted and do what I wanted. And despite the perceived desire to travel up and down our beautiful country, I didn’t leave Jerusalem more than once.

I walked a lot in the city itself, marveling at the amazing amount of construction and development going on in our capital.  I spent time learning Torah, meeting with spiritual teachers, and seeing old friends and students.  But more than anything else, I wanted to find myself—the “me” after all the noise and obligations and requirements died down.

The first thing I noticed is how many voices we have going on around us all the time.  Maybe it’s the news, whatever we are binge watching on Netflix, the podcasts, the kids, our friends, etc.  But all around us there is noise.  Our sages teach us that when the Torah was given, there was perfect silence in the world.  The oceans didn’t make noise, the bees didn’t buzz, the birds didn’t chirp.  Silence is the only way you can hear spirituality.

The second thing I noticed, after I pushed out the external voices, were my internal ones.  And as someone that’s spent a LOT of time working on myself as I’ve gotten older, I still find so much of my internal dialogue is negative. “You’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, holy enough.”

The last part really stuck with me.  Not that it’s a new voice —or one that only I have.  Unfortunately, many Jews walk around feeling like they aren’t good with G-d—that somehow, He’s sitting and judging and making life hard on us.  And to be honest, this could be why so many people don’t seek Him, or pretend He is irrelevant to their lives; because how could you be close to G-d if He doesn’t like you?

For me, it’s really hard to actually say these words.  I feel so trite.  After all, I am always talking about how much G-d loves everyone, even the most wicked people.  He doesn’t approve of their deeds but He loves them.  And if G-d is the source of all goodness, why do I feel like I’m not good enough?

So, I choked out this question to a great sage that I had the opportunity to meet. He didn’t miss a beat.

He asked me if I had a son. I replied I did. He asked me if my son ever let me down, or frustrated me, or did something I didn’t approve of. I said of course. Then he asked me if his deeds ever called into question the tremendous sense of love that I have for him. In a heartbeat, I said, “no.”

The rabbi looked at me. Then he said the following, “The amount you love your son doesn’t compare in the smallest amount to how much G-d loves you.”

I’m a grown man, but my eyes filled with tears.  And of course, I knew this already.  But something about hearing it was profound.

A lot of times, or all the time, we are our harshest critic. And this profoundly affects how we think others and G-d see us.  But it is a self-imposed cage. If you think about it, our kids don’t need to do anything, to be anything to make us love them.  Sure, we all have hopes and dreams for our kids, but our love for them is essential and not connected to anything.  We love them because they are our kids and we their parents.

That kind of love is fundamental. It is empowering. It is safe and it is strong. And it is a human emotion implanted into us to help us understand our relationship with G-d.  And if we started thinking about that, we wouldn’t want to hide, or create space, or do our own thing, or find a new yoga studio.  We’d turn back to our heritage, to our community, and to our most fundamental relationships; those with ourselves and our Creator.

In a way, the most significant thing I saw in Israel was a new way to see myself.

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