God Left Me, So Now I’m Leaving Jewish Observance
Hi Jew in the City,
I grew up in a religious environment, but in the last few years I’ve pretty much left religion: I don’t daven (pray) at all (too lazy), Shabbat (what’s that ???), but still keep kosher [hmm…]. Although I still dress like a religious Jew, I don’t really practice much and the reason for that is [I think]: God left me.
However there’s a reason I’m contacting you, and you probably know the answer already. I’m planning to leave the community for a completely non-Jewish one…so what’s your advice…
Toda (thanks) in advance,
Sorry I’ve gotta leave my name out
Dear Sorry I’ve gotta leave my name out,
I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I’m sure it was something very painful since, although you believe that there’s a God in the Universe, it feels as though He has abandoned you.
What’s interesting about your struggle, and obviously a testament to your faith, is that whatever happened hasn’t led you to believe that there simply is no God or that our laws and traditions are invalid. So since you’re still working within the system, at least intellectually, I will respond to you within the system.
It seems that in order to rebuild your relationship with God, we need to deal with both your feelings of abandonment and some practical steps to start bringing Hashem back into your life. When attempting to connect with the Almighty, the best way to do so is to look to relationships that we have in this world, and as you probably know, the connection we have with God is likened to that of a parent and child and a husband and wife.
Sometimes parents do things for their child’s benefit which the child isn’t able to understand. The mind of a child simply can’t comprehend everything the mind of an adult can. How much greater is the discrepancy between the thoughts a human being and the thoughts of the Master of the Universe?!
I’ll give you a couple examples of a child not understanding the reasoning behind his parents’ seemingly cruel actions. The first is one of “abandonment.” When my babies are several months old, as advised by my doctor, I let them “cry it out” so that they can learn to put themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night when they awaken. I’ve been told that it’s important for children to learn to self-soothe and that it ultimately leads to all of us sleeping and feeling better. But I’m sure that my babies, in their baby brains, are thinking, “Mommy! Where are you? Don’t you hear me? Why aren’t you coming? Why have you left me?” The truth is I haven’t left them – I’m right outside their room listening to every whimper and even crying myself!
The second example I’ll give is one of a parent causing her child pain in order to help him and it happened recently to my friend when she discovered a tick on her son’s ear. She tried to pull it off gently, but it wasn’t budging as it had already burrowed deep into the skin, so she and her husband literally had to pin the child down and rip the tick out until the he bled. My friend was VERY traumatized by this experience, but she did it because she knew that leaving the tick there was not safe and it was due to her great love for her son that she acted in this way.
We can see from these two examples that sometimes parents have to do things that make their children feel alone or in pain and while the parents don’t enjoy watching their children suffer, they cause the suffering not despite loving their children but rather because they love them. Think of whatever pain you experienced (or are experiencing now) and visualize God “crying” as you cried (or are crying). All throughout the Talmud, and even in Tanach (the Jewish Bible) we see examples of Hashem “crying” as He watches His children suffering in exile. This is a major idea in Jewish theology. Our pain is God’s pain, so don’t for a minute think that you suffer alone.
Unfortunately, your feelings of abandonment pushed you further from observance, but the truth is that when one feels far from God, the best way to connect to Him is by performing His commandments. Let’s move on now to how our relationship with God is like that of a husband and wife. In a relationship like marriage (and in probably all relationships) there are ups and downs. There are times when the couple feels more connected and in tune with each other and times when there’s more of a distance. The key to a great marriage and a great relationship with God is to a) recognize and be OK with the natural ebb and flow of the relationshp and b) to constantly be working to make the relationship better. You mentioned not praying due to the fact that you are “lazy,” but a relationship can only be as good as the work you put into it.
You stated that you still dress like a religious Jew and keep kosher, and while these are important mitzvos, practices such as these seem to be the spiritual equivalent of wearing a wedding band and not cheating on one’s spouse (respectively). While these are important things to do and are symbolic of an outward committment, they’re not proactive enough.
How would a couple feeling distant from one another attempt to repair the relationship? First, they’d be told to think back to the last time that they felt good about each other. You must do the same in regards to your relationship with the Almighty. Think back to a time when you were inspired. Was there a certain piece of Torah that you learned that touched you? A special Shabbos experience that sticks out in your mind? A time when you were praying and felt close to God? A person you met who truly embodied Jewish values and was an inspiration to watch? We all must do our best to collect these points of inspiration throughout our lives and leave them on file, as it were, to draw from when we’re feeling spiritually distant. If you have anyway of recreating one of these moments, that’s even better.
Once the couple spends some time remembering why they initially fell in love, they’d then be advised to carve out quality time to spend together regularly and to open the gates of communication with one another. The spiritual equivalents to these concepts are Shabbos – which you can look at as a weekly “date” with God, and prayer, which although it is admittedly a one sided conversation, should not just be words that you recite out of a prayer book at proscribed times, but should also be personal prayers that you utter to the Almighty throughout the day. I presume that you’re not married, so it’s probably best to think of a good friend when it comes to this analogy. Regularly updating a friend about your life via text messages or phone calls would keep him in the loop. Even if you feel that God doesn’t care – give Him the updates anyways!
In terms of Shabbos – since it’s been so long since you’ve gone on your weekly “date” with the Holy One, Blessed Be He, I’d recommend “going all out,” like a couple might try to make the first few date nights extra special to get things started on the right foot. If there are any places you’ve been for Shabbos in the past which were particurly inspiring, I’d suggest starting off with those families, but if you don’t have any place particularly inspiring to spend Shabbos and you live in the New York area, it would be our pleasure to host you in our home and also connect you with families who inspire us. (If you feel that God has abandoned you, you should remember that He got you to JewintheCity.com through Divine Providence and you are now being cared about by a fellow Jew who will fight for you, which is ultimately God fighting for you, by way of a shaliach (messenger).)
Another point about prayer. I’m sure you already know the verse from tehillim (psalms), but remember that we are told “Hashem is close to all who call out to Him sincerely” so you must call out to Him with everything you’ve got! I don’t know if you feel up to saying a whole prayer service three times a day, every day at this point, but I’d recommend starting to put on tefillin daily, saying Shema, and, as it also says in tehillim, “pour out your heart to God, like water.” I’m sure you’ve heard of hisbodedus, which is informal prayer where one moves ones lips and just tells God what’s on his mind. I HIGHLY recommend doing this every day. Ask God to return to you, to give you clarity, to help you feel close, to give you strength to continue, to help you find happiness. As the verse says, “Return to us, God, and we’ll return to you. Restore our days like they used to be.”
I believe that ultimately you don’t want to leave the observant Jewish world, because if you did, you wouldn’t have asked me for advice beforehand, you would have just left. As a person who went in the other direction, from non-observance to observance, I can tell you from experience that while you may find happiness in a life without God (I was quite happy both in the emotional and physical sense before I came to a Torah life) I don’t believe that you will be spiritually fulfilled.
I had everything in life that was supposed to make me happy, but I longed for something transcedant, because even as a child I knew that this world is fleeting and would be gone in the blink of an eye. As a Torah believing Jew, you are aware of the concept, “Ain od milvado” – “There is nothing outside of God.” As Hashem literally emanates throughout all time and space, to turn your back on Him and His commandments will leave you with very little to hold on to and very few excuses when you meet your Maker at the end of your life.
I know it’s been rough, but please don’t give up. Hashem is testing you as we are all tested in life, and you have the ability to pass this test, whether or not you know it yet. Your ancestors (and mine) literally gave up their lives through- out history so that you’d be able to stand here today and observe. Don’t let the chain of Torah living end with you. Don’t let their brave sacrifices be for naught. (And please let me know if you want to come to us for Shabbos.)
Wishing you overflowing blessing and closeness to Hashem,