Let me be 100 percent clear: I grew up in a very traditional Jewish home with the biggest influence being my Russian born/escaped from the Bolsheviks/made the horrendous crossing, Bubbe and Pa. They taught us what it meant to be a Jew, how to be a proud Jew, what significance each holiday held and that you must respect the food on your plate (you know — the starving kids in Europe!)
All of my cousins and friends went to Sunday School, starting at age five, up through 12th grade, commencing with our Confirmation celebration. (In those days, girls did not have a bas mitzvah, but all the boys had a bar mitzvah). Maybe not too different an upbringing from most of my baby boomer peers.
What was different for me and my family was that we lived across the street from our community rabbi. While my Grandparents were the source of our Jewishness, the rabbi and his family were the examples of the social-conscious aspect of our Jewish selves, the teachers of the Torah, the way to live as a Jew, the Jewish posture to uphold in society. An ever-present phrase was, “Remember! Don’t be a shanda (shame/scandal) for the neighborhood!”
The rabbi, who was raised Orthodox and ordained Conservative, always preached G-d from his pulpit, instilling within us G-d’s ever presence in our lives. It was almost like, “He sees you when you are sleeping, He knows when you’re awake, He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!” It’s like the old saying, “Mothers have eyes in back of their heads!” Well, the rabbi let us know that “G-d is always watching!” I don’t want to say he scared us kids, but he scared us kids!
I had a somewhat different relationship with the rabbi’s family: We were neighbors who walked in and out of each other’s homes without knocking, my mom and the rebbetzin were best friends, his daughter was my best friend. On Shabbos afternoons, during the summer and after shul, the rabbi would leave his home through his back door (it overlooked the neighborhood and I have always believed the positioning of his door was like he was at his pulpit!), where he’d carefully look to the left, then to the right, and in his stylish cabana outfit (my father owned a men’s clothing store) dashed across the street when he was sure no one was watching, to go swimming in our pool!!
It was Shabbos! He told us we couldn’t do anything on Shabbos! On Friday nights and Saturday mornings, all of us kids would walk with him the almost 2 miles to the shul and walk back the almost 2 miles home! “He sees you…He knows if you’ve been bad or good…!”
But regardless of his swimming on Shabbos, the rabbi was the best teacher I ever had. Listening to his classroom teachings and Temple sermons helped me create my personal relationship with G-d. G-d and I talk. Well, I talk, He listens. G-d sees when I kiss every mezuzah as I enter and leave a Jewish home. G-d hears my prayers every day. G-d knows I say the Sh’ma three times a day. G-d knows I bring food to the sick. G-d sends me a sign when to keep my mouth shut and when to say empathetic words to those who need them. G-d knew I needed my rabbi right after I was in a car accident that killed my parents so He sent the rabbi to me as I lay in the emergency room — the first person who was at my side at a time of personal tragedy.
So my point being: I strongly believe in G-d. I was raised that G-d was the do-all/be-all force in our lives. I grew to believe in fate, that our destinies were in place when we were born, THOUGH, we had CHOICES in our decisions. I know that sounds contradictory but serendipity has always been my favorite word. I took it to mean as we walk down our personal path we would come to a fork in the road and the chosen road was the one we were supposed to journey, whether the end was good or bad. It was just ours. And G-d led us there. And G-d knew it was to be our story.
BUT, here comes the G-d rub: IF G-d is this do-all/be-all force in our lives, WHY would G-d let bad things happen to good people? Why did my parents die at the hands of a drunken driver at 38 years old? Why was I saved? Why was there a Holocaust? Why have Jews always been a target of hatred? Why are there earthquakes? Why are there floods? Why are there fires? Why are there pandemics?
And in today’s unbelievable world, I must ask, what is G-d/the universe trying to tell us?
And as I grow older, for me, I’ve realized it’s not the WHYS anymore — a question I’ve reconciled with that may never be answered, it’s the WHATS?
As I’ve thought about this the last many years, I just couldn’t stop thinking about what the WHAT was!
And then after a series of life forces, as in earthquakes around the world, the hurricane in Puerto Rico, fires in California followed by rain and floods, I began to think less about WHY has G-d allowed these tragedies to happen and more about the universe/Mother Nature’s all-too powerful involvement!
And then I wondered if Mother Nature was the WHAT! Is Mother Nature the most powerful force on earth? Is She more powerful than G-d in a physical sense, not spiritual/emotional sense? Are they in a tug-of-war relationship? A one-upmanship? Is G-d the person-based force (Hitler? The drunken driver?) and is Mother Nature the Water of Life, “Where beneath the clouds, who, at her bosom feeds plants, animals and humans and presides over planting and harvesting?”
Is the relationship between G-d and Mother Nature like a bad marriage? Are they continually vying for control? Do they have calm periods when the earth is good and then have volatile explosions when the planet pays no attention that erodes into the tragedies of the world?
And are we, the inhabitants of the world, their children, who misbehave and are punished by the parent who has the best solution for awakening our attention and punching our souls with the power to cause our demise?
Do They realize we are clueless to their power while they continually put before us hints of our bad behavior, our poor attitude and lack of consideration for the home They have given us?
Are They the parents who give and give and we continue to take and take with no appreciation for the earth we inhabit?
If we should/would/could rethink our habits, actions, exploits and belief systems, would there be fewer natural disasters, human catastrophic events and piercing heartbreak for us humans?
Have we not connected the dots between this pandemic and how we treat the earth? Do we not see this and the other events of the past few years as a wake-up call to our handling of our natural resources (Mother Nature) and each other (G-d)? When will we recognize that we are all one people living in the same neighborhood that has been lent to us by the Powers-that-Be?
And I must acknowledge the sight and smell of a new born baby, the palette of spring flowers, the kvelling of a child at the bimah, the sound of the Kol Nidre, the wonder of the Grand Canyon, the joy and love of family sharing the Shabbat — all the miracles of G-d and Mother Nature’s deliberate gifts to the world. But I pray that we have the capacity, insight and where-with-all to deserve them by preserving what has been offered to us.
Whether it’s G-d or Mother Nature, both or neither, something has to change. And since we, the people, are the only tenants on earth with mind, body and soul, we have to solve the issues/problems that we have created, to plant the seeds that will flourish, to better care for our planet and each other, for no other reason than the future of the safe and healthy harvesting of OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN.