Thursday, January 21, 2010

Choosing God Over the Tooth Fairy--Dedicated to Bernie Newman

My friend Bernie Newman asked me why I believe in God as opposed to say, the Tooth Fairy. I gave him a very long response and thought to blog it it since it goes to the essence of why I have become religious.

This is from the word I gave at my daughter Malka's Bas Mitzvah:

There's a Midrash that says that when the angels got wind of the fact that Hashem (God) was about to create another human being--Eve--they complained. They said to Hashem, "Why are you going to create another one of those things? They SIN!"

Hashem told the angels, "Don't worry. This new creature will be different. I will create her so that it won't be in her nature to sin."

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch said that when Hashem split Eve from Adam, Eve/woman was given man's portion of innate spirituality.

Because Adam/man lost this part of himself, he would always be at risk for becoming at sea with his spirituality--would always need to actively tie himself to Hashem by dint of doing many mitzvos (commandments). Without the mitzvos, man loses his connection to his spirituality.

Take the mitzvah (commandment) of sukkah*, for instance. Men are commanded to dwell in the sukkah for an entire week. Women have no such commandment. Men need to enact the drama of living in the desert under the stars for a whole week so as to connect them to the history of their ancestors' lengthy desert-wandering. That little playing-out of ancient history is exactly what they need to get them through another year of their Jewish existence while they live out their day-to-day drudgery.

Women, on the other hand, have no need of all of those commandments because they have a direct spiritual tie to Hashem. It's inborn. Men have to strive, women are already there, close to Hashem every second of every day.

In the morning service, there is a series of blessings called the Negative Blessings. We say thank God I'm not this, and thank God I'm not that. Many feminists get P.O.'ed about the blessing that men say: Thank God I'm not a woman.

Rashi explains that men are thanking God for having more commandments--that the more commandments we have, the greater our quality of life. So, a free man has more commandments than a slave, and so forth. A man has more commandments than a woman. That's the real meaning of those blessings: we express our gratitude for what we get out of living a Torah life and fulfilling the mitzvos.

Within all those negative blessings, there is a single affirmation. Women say (channeling Popeye??): Thank God I am what I am.

I love that. Woman is saying: Thank you for creating me with innate spirituality, for making me a special kind of human being with a direct tie to You, for making me someone who isn't so inclined to sin. I am happy with my portion, even grateful!

Man, on the other hand, is lucky to have those many commandments because he needs them. It helps him alter his life from one of humdrum toil to a life that has meaning. So a man who strives to follow the mitzvos is joyful for having this constant tool for attaining the spiritual.

A woman is every bit as joyful because of her unique position of having been born spiritually whole.

As I explained to Bernie, either you buy it or you don't. There is nothing one can say about the Tooth Fairy that will speak to my soul. The reason is something inborn, because I'm a woman--a Jewish woman.

It's much harder for a man to come to and maintain faith and spirituality. It requires striving. This is what I believe with all my heart.

*Sukkah-a temporary hut that is central to the holiday of Sukkos.

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