What is FAITH?
I started to question my faith recently. It’s been a rough ride since I converted to Judaism a year and a half ago. I was telling my fiancé I don’t feel like Judaism really did anything for me, aside from jolt and challenge me and serve me the equivalent of 40-years in the desert. Why did I want to be Jewish in the first place?
Well I liked the structure, the traditions. I liked Shabbat and it gave me a sense of peace for the first time ever living in Los Angeles. My other half was Jewish and since I had lost touch with Catholicism or Christianity it seemed wiser if we were on the same page of thought and philosophy, spirituality…particularly going forward in life together as a team, a unit. Plus Judaism made sense to me; it was logical, it’s the oldest religion upon which other religions are based. There’s a simplicity to it. It appealed to me. But shortly after I converted a series of issues emerged, which almost made me wonder if converting to Judaism came with some sort of curse…or the gods had decided to challenge me to test the authenticity of my beliefs.
Shortly after converting and getting engaged (the proposal in Paris went well, but after that it was a downward slide), both my fiancé and I struggled with finances and employment, so we were simultaneously engaged and jobless. Then I became very depressed and desensitized. It was like stainless steel prison walls shutting down all around me. Afterall, there’s only so much rejection a person can take. Job interview after job interview just proved disappointing and also made me severely doubt and question myself.
I thought after converting my confidence had improved, but a year into being a Jew, I had no confidence at all. I started to suffer from anxiety. I took Xanax for awhile, I tried smoking medical marijuana to ease my insomnia (every night waking up at 3am in a panic). We were on the edge, struggling to survive. If this is my “Welcome to Judaism” then I don’t want it, I thought. Finally I found a small job house-sitting and dog-walking to pay my basic bills and get me through the uncertain time. But all my ambitions, anything I had ever aimed for was met with constant rejection and opposition. It looked like I was never going to break out of the low-socio economic status I had been born into, no matter how hard I tried or how many books I read. Even if I was Jewish, I was always going to be a povo peasant Polack immigrant from Australia. I just didn’t know the right people, didn’t have the right type of luck. I was a schlimazel (a Jew with chronic bad luck). Perhaps I was even infecting my fiancé with my shitty luck, since he claimed this was the worst predicament he had ever been in himself.
I woke up one morning feeling the same discomfort and disorientation that this was my crap life. I pointed my middle finger to the sky and yelled, “F YOU God!”
I told me fiancé I was beginning to question whether converting had been a mistake. He answered, “Well it’s not a miracle cure.” Yeah, I know God is not a genie, but I’m trying to be a good person here and do the right things, why am I always struggling…financially, professionally, emotionally? Why am I always uncomfortable? I’m not asking to be extraordinary, I’d just like to be normal. Why does God hate me?
Then I started to question the whole notion of faith. What is faith? I’ve heard the term tossed around vaguely so many times. “Faith over fear” I heard one Rabbi preach. But what exactly does that mean? Does it mean you believe things will miraculously get better? I’ve always thought there was a fine line between faith and delusion and sometimes no matter how hard we pray we just don’t get the outcomes we desire. Does that mean our faith was not strong enough? We didn’t daydream enough? We failed to manifest?
I felt isolated from whatever optimism or hope the idea of being Jewish had given me in the first place. I initially felt Judaism had given me a philosophy for living – it was grounded in practicality, the family, Shabbat. But what difference did it make for me now. My new job meant I would have to occasionally work on Shabbat anyway; I slowly found my fiancé more and more irritating in the midst of our struggles and could barely tolerate being around him. I couldn’t afford the synagogue membership fees (the first year for converts was free, but year two was going to cost close to a thousand dollars or more), so I stopped going. Year two of being Jewish, I was in a really strange place, riddled with doubt, fear and humiliation. Was it too early to become a Buddhist now?
Even though I felt rejected by Judaism, I decided to attend this talk by a notorious Rabbi from Israel, Rabbi Shalom Arush. I saw the flyer on a lamppost in my neighborhood and was immediately reeled in by the caption: Finding Happiness, Peace & Closeness to God through Emuna.
I have no idea what “Emuna” is, but I would love to be happy, I thought. It seemed like such an unrealistic concept for me. Admission was free. There really was no reason why I couldn’t go. Perhaps it was a sign. Even though I said “F U” to God that one morning, Israel is defined as one who struggles with God, so technically I was perfectly within the guidelines of Judaism, even though I was in conflict with the G.O.D. So I dragged my fiancé to see this Rabbi speak and not only was he beyond inspiring and looked like a remnant from Moses’ times with his grey beard and Hasidic attire, most importantly, he redefined my whole notion of faith by introducing me to “EMUNA.”
So what is faith? If you asked me prior to hearing Rabbi Shalom Arush speak or reading his book, “The Garden of Emuna” I really couldn’t give you a concrete answer. Had I even considered what the definition of faith was leading up to my conversion? Was the Jewish definition of faith monotheism (the belief there is one God) and that’s it? I guess the extent of my faith was – God exists but he is not my baby-sitter or a miracle maker and if I screw up in life or some sh*t goes down, God has nothing to do with it. The Rabbi I had initially studied under was talking about the Holocaust as an example during a class. He said in severe atrocities people tend to ask “Where was God?” He continued, the only way he could explain something as horrific as the Holocaust was to believe that God governs on a wider scale but is removed from the day-to-day operations of our earthly lives.
So in a way partly based on this teaching and other vague notions of faith I had been introduced to along the way, I believed that God was selective and you have to help yourself and not naively rely on Divine Intervention. The problem I had with my faith or lack of definition was I began to struggle to see meaning in my life if things weren’t going well or as planned or expected…and without meaning, what’s the point? You might as well be dead. My lack of faith or poor definition of faith was exasperating my depression and I continued to view living as dodging bullets till you reach the finish line. I was kind of looking forward to my own funeral. Besides I believed I was chronically unlucky and screwed. If I couldn’t even turn to God, I might as well just quietly do my time and get through it.
But according to EMUNA, “everything comes from Hashem (God) by way of perfect Divine Providence, even the tiniest and most seemingly insignificant event.” We may not know why something happens, but if you have Emuna then you believe that EVERYTHING that happens comes from God, and secondly, everything God does is for the BEST even if it seems F’d up and we can’t understand it.
This definition changed everything for me. You see, redefining my notion of faith according to Emuna actually helped me to accept my pain and take it with dignity. If it was meant to be this way, then so be it. I will try to choose to believe it was for the best, even if it doesn’t feel very good. Sometimes we don’t know where life is leading…but if we believe that what happens comes from God and is always for the best, even if it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant, it’s much easier to accept and digest. I suppose it’s a little like destiny.
Rabbi Arush said the best thing you can do is accept everything that happens with a smile; embrace the pain, the tribulations…because it’s all part of a greater message and plan. The more spiritually evolved you are, the more capable you are of accepting the riddles of life and the things that happen that suck.
There’s of course a lot more to the concept of “EMUNA” and you should continue to pray and be proactive and do your best, but there you have it! Perhaps God is not removed from our day-to-day operations afterall, so you might as well keep striving and try to have a good attitude about it.
What’s your definition of faith?