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April 25, 2012 3:25 pm

Kosher or Not, Life is a Journey

avatar by Zvi Oren

Email a copy of "Kosher or Not, Life is a Journey" to a friend

President George H. W. Bush speaking with children at 1991 White House Staff Hanukkah Menorah lighting. Photo: NARA.

Laurel Snyder, an accomplished poet and author of children’s books recently published a piece on CNN’s “Belief Blog”, examining her journey raising religious (but not too religious) children.

Below is a response to Snyder’s piece:

Dear Laurel,

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I read your article with interest.  In your words I found the honesty of a genuine life journey, and the sincere rhythm of a mother seeking her destiny as she looks into the searching eyes of her children. And with every step she reminds herself; if it isn’t honest, it doesn’t count.

And to that I say cheers. L’chaim.

Your journey is a true journey. It is the journey of life, and the journey of Judaism. And unlike Robert Frost, we are not forced to choose between two roads diverging in the woods, for the journey of life and Judaism are really one and the same.

Judaism in its religious sense, is sometimes lost in the smokescreen of restrictions. The Torah, our Bible, is more a compass to living than a book of obligations. It teaches us to peel away the externalities of our lives, and to discover the real “us” – the ‘who, what, where, how, and why’ of our being.

In other words, Judaism is a journey; the struggle of an honest heart in a tumultuous world. And yet, as Kenneth Grahame’s amiable character, Toad, exclaims in The Wind in the Willows, it is the “only genuine occupation for a lifetime.”

Because, in truth, to live is to journey.

We recently celebrated a great journey in synagogues and homes around the world. during the eight-day festival of Passover.  We commemorated the miraculous Exodus from slavery in Egypt, and interestingly, the other names by which the holiday is called, provide insight into how Judaism views our life journey.

In scripture, the holiday is referred to as the Festival of Matzah, and in the special prayer service for Passover we label it the ‘Festival of our Liberation’.

The idea behind the two names are expressed in what they represent.  Matzah, the flat unleavened bread that we eat on Passover, hints at submission to a higher power, in this case G-d.  Liberation refers to, of course, the quality of being free – the freedom to be self-autonomous.

So, on the one hand, we are the people of the Book; G-d’s word is our command. Even the most trivial details in our lives revolve around the age-old teachings of the Bible. And yet, the same Bible that demands submissiveness, then calls for the deeds of a self-autonomous man.

A paradox you say? I like to call it the ultimate journey.

See, Judaism is not “the opiate of the masses,” as Karl Marx would have you believe. Nor is it a page out of Aldous Huxley’s chilling account of universal uniformity in Brave New World. Rather, in Jewish philosophy, compliance to a higher calling is the gateway to discovering our freedom, to understanding who we really are.

Freedom is not about indulging in our every desire, as that would simply render us slaves to our instinct. Genuine freedom, rather, is the clarity of mind to direct our hearts toward the truisms in every adventure along our journey. And thus, the Torah becomes our compass, so we can discover the voice of our soul, and experience the real “us.”

Although your Judaism will define you, it should never constrict you. Judaism shouldn’t constitute your identity; it should be the color of your identity.

If, along your journey, you haven’t experienced such Judaism, then your wanderings must roll on. Drop in to your nearest Chabad house, have a chat with the Rabbi, and I am certain “you shall see what you shall see.”

But for the meantime, pack plenty of provisions for your journey and remember: to live is to journey, and each step along your way is already significant – kosher or not.

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