Recently I found a message from someone in the depths of my email inbox that I had ignored for a long time.
I wrote back to them. A few days ago I got a reply, which I'm sharing below.
It's a well-written honest explanation of how they went from being non-religious to finding a sense of purpose and belonging in Judaism.
I can understand why someone would embrace the commandments/rules of a religion rather than struggling to find their own moral code, even though this doesn't make sense to me any more.
After this person's message, minus their name, I've shared my reply to them.
Brian, thank you so much for getting back. I read through our conversation and I am blown away by the full span of emotions I used to feel at the ripe age of 22. I've recently returned to Judaism and have found a lot of peace and meaning in it.
My view of Judaism is very similar to a Zen interpretation of Buddhism: I can't explain to you why G-d exists or whether anything in the Torah is historical, but I know what the practice does for me and that it is beneficial.
As I reread our conversation, I realize I take you a lot more seriously now than I did then (if you could believe that). Memories come back to me of thinking "well maybe he doesn't know" regardless of my affirmations I've expressed; for example, when you say that Buddhists are just as dogmatic, I remember denying the possibility (due to dogmatic thinking), although now, in retrospect, I come to understand that reality.
Judaism has truly given me a lot of divine purpose. I find that it has this uniqueness that there's something in it for every Jew. They say for every two Jews, there's three opinions. I find that to be absolutely true because, as someone looking for spiritual fulfillment, freedom from attachment, and a drive for my compassion, I find all that there ready for the taking.
The idea of taking all of my concerns, throwing away their selfish value, and using them for the purpose of serving G-d is a level of detachment itself.
The idea of G-d is so far away from human understanding that taking all my pleasures and my pains and realizing that it is for the purpose of worshiping something completely intangible has the function of removing the responsibility to be concerned with them from a selfish point of view.
I've noticed that the less I worry about my happiness and more about the happiness of The Intangible Creator, the happier I really am due to the abandoning of my sense of self.
Three times a day I say the most important prayer in the Jewish religion, known as the Shema. Hear O' Israel, The L-rd is Our G-d, The L-rd is One. Meditation is a necessity during this blessing as I run the ideas through my mind respectively, "I am given this responsibility to serve G-d, He is in control of everything and I don't have to worry, and He pervades all matter and all entities and ideas, therefore nothing should ever feel unfamiliar."
This is the Jewish version of taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.
Another thing I love is Shabbat. This is the fact that once a week, we turn off all of our electronics and spend a joyous day where worry is forbidden, family is together, and we are disconnected from all the strain and pain of the world that our phones make sure to frequently remind us of.
I've absolutely fallen in love with Judaism. Once again, I could never point to science and explain why it confirms my beliefs, but I can explain why it makes me happy and can improve my life; and it has.
The amount of "everyday" philosophy that it's provided has been enormously helpful. It's a huge relief to stand on the shoulders of giants with thousands of years of moral documentation. The greatest thing that made me come to the realization that Judaism was something that I needed goes back to the day I "found G-d." I was sitting in my car one night after a tough visit with my therapist.
I was at a crossroads trying to decide if I wanted to do the "right thing" or the "easy thing." The easy thing was something that I knew to be obviously immoral but would allow me to live my life the way I wanted.
Sitting in my car writing down all my thoughts and feelings, I realized that in a case like that, I would not do the right thing unless I subscribed to a form of objective morality to keep myself accountable. I realized that my subjective morality was too unreliable to make me do the right thing and I really wanted to do the right thing.
Right then and there, I felt a rush run over me and an intense calm from the idea that I could prescribe to my life the Torah and finally have a manual on how to live my life in this clueless world. And that's what I did, I subscribed to this ancient morality and decided to do the right thing.
I ended up having my cake and eating it too. Everything happened to go as smoothly as it could be. Ever since then, I feel a huge responsibility to make the world a better place which I am enthusiastic to bear.
I'm sorry to come back to you after reading your blog for about three years about open-mindedness and free choice to seem that I support the established order. However, Judaism is not Christianity and a wandering Jew like myself would be pleased to find that if happiness is what we're all chasing, we may be able to find it in our own backyard. After all, as the Buddha taught, peace isn't something you find outside of yourself.
Thank you for your correspondence and I hope this new year finds you many blessings.