If You’re Not Struggling With God, You’re Missing The Point

I used to be simplistic in my religious thinking. I didn’t mean to be, I just didn’t know any better. I had spent so many years of my childhood asking deep questions about the meaning of life, the purpose of existence, and generally searching for Truth that when I finally stumbled upon Torah and mitzvos in my teens and saw the depth and beauty in them – in my very own heritage – I was relieved. “Done!” I thought. “God is good, the Torah is perfect, the END.” (The end to my thinking, that is.)

But then, a boy I met in college (who turned out to be the boy I’d one day marry) told me, “Not so fast. You’re just getting started.” He explained that coming to Torah was only the beginning. Now it was time for me to struggle through it. “What’s to struggle?” I pushed back, “God is good. The Torah is perfect. I believe it. I follow it. There’s nothing left to discuss.” I was convinced that I was right for several years, but then I started to learn more.

I learned about slavery in the Torah, the Jewish divorce process, I thought about what it meant for God to create a person with homosexual attraction yet forbid him to pursue such a relationship. I felt challenged. I felt pain. I felt struggle. But then I learned that the root of the word “Israel” (“Yisrael”) in fact means “to struggle with God.” And I felt better. It wasn’t supposed to be easy. I WAS supposed to find tension in the text. I wasn’t just permitted to struggle with God – it was the essence of being a Jew.

Recently, I came to a realization: the Jewish denominations – like how I was raised – that try to change the Torah because they feel uncomfortable with uncomfortable parts – they have removed the struggle. Now, it is understandable why you’d want to cut out the sections that are hard to grasp and hard to swallow, but by removing that which challenges us we no longer need to be challenged. We remove the struggle with God.

So too, the observant Jews, who like how I used to be, who blindly accept without taking the time or care, to empathize or be bothered or troubled or challenged are guilty in their own way of removing themselves from struggling with God. So brace yourself, then dive right into to a perfect Torah and a good God with Whom you are meant to struggle.

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  • Avatar photo Jon Bressler says on January 2, 2018

    Tell this to an agunah who’s life has been on hold for 8 years because of her abusive recalcitrant husband, closeted Orthodox gay men pretending to be straight, kohanim who used to love dochening until disease robbed them of their ability to stand, blind people, deaf people.

    We have proper Orthodox methods of Halachic process to gradually envision Halachah as something enabling while still retaining that tension. The struggle should not because we bar folks whose capacities and intellects were historically in question or unsupported in becoming an individual of agency. And in places where it seems too bold to change the Halachah we can earnestly do our best to express compassion and a ratzon for them to be part of our community.

    But it’s irresponsible and myopic and gross to say that it is all struggle. That’s gross and willfully negligent.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on January 4, 2018

      Thanks for your comment, Jon. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I can struggle with God even if I’m not the agunah. I can struggle with God because of the struggle *she* has due to halacha. In my mind, one need not be suffering personally to be challenged by the suffering we see around us. In truth, we should open our eyes to the pain around us and certainly try to minimize it. But when there is pain we can’t help, that is where I struggle.


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