> I will admit at the outset that I have aways been more of a mystic than a religious person, although I was born and raised in Conservative Judaism. My father, a financially active member of our synagogue, did a yeoman’s job in raising a substantial amount of money to build the synagogue’s Frank Lloyd Wright designed new building. Shortly thereafter, he forever abandoned his synagogue attendance (except for weddings and funerals) when the synagogue began charging for High Holy Day seats by location…most expensive seats closest to the bima (stage) and decreasing in price as distance from it increased. He also had a minor problem with a neighbor who walked to synagogue on the Sabbath in strict observance of the prohibition not to drive, but who was less than ethical the other 6 days of the week in business.
I grew up pursuing my own spiritual journey. I explored, intellectually, several religions while ultimately gravitating back toward mild Jewish observance as a single woman in my early thirties. When I married a non-Jew in my early 40’s, my husband later converted to Judaism (of his own accord) and he…then we…became Orthodox in observance. After several years his Orthodoxy waned as did mine. Today, we attend synagogue as a family on High Holy Days, mainly as continuity for our daughter’s sake.
Personally, I remain the mystic I have always been. Which brings me to this week.
It’s Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and the 10 days of Repentance, culminating in Yom Kippur. In Torah (the Five Books of Moses) Rosh Hashanah is a “one day” holy day. Outside of Israel, it has been for centuries, a “two-day” holy day, mandated by Rabbinic law, not Torah law (there’s a lot of that in Judaism). This year I observed the first day of Rosh Hashana but not the second.
So it came to be that on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashana I was driving home from food shopping when I passed by the synagogue as it was ending morning services. As I watched the congregants walking either to their cars or walking home, I experienced a twinge of guilt for where I was as opposed to, perhaps, where I should have been. But as I continued to look at all the men and women exiting the building, I was struck by how similarly all the women were dressed and how similarly all the men were dressed. It occurred to me that so many people follow what they are taught, and what they see, without ever questioning why.
And I was reminded of how important intention is to prayer.
In Judaism, intent is called kavanah. It’s the sincerity and focused intention one brings to the effort to connect with the Divine. Without kavanah, prayer is pretty much an exercise in futility. When we proceed on a spiritual path simply, or primarily, because others before us have proceeded upon that path, without questioning why or whether it rings true within our own hearts, we are abdicating our uniqueness and the role each of us plays in reuniting the world in Oneness. It may be that a well worn path can serve us on or journey, but it may be equally true that it may not.
The true spiritual path leads inward. It is a solitary journey that requires kavanah…focused, joyful intention…no matter what path you choose. Lacking that, one defaults to the status of “imitator” who blindly follows the group up ahead, regardless of whether or not they are heading in your direction.
There are many paths to Oneness. A connection to the Divine is not the sole prerogative of any one of those paths. When the connection is made, it’s unmistakable, whether it’s your own or that of another.
The first day of Rosh Hashanah, as I sat in services, two young Orthodox men assisting with the formalities of the service were truly ecstatic in their devotion and joy. They were both inspiring and magnificent to watch. Their connection through their chosen path was undeniable. While their path is not mine, I delighted in being able to witness their experience. I have such moments myself walking in the woods listening to the Divine in Nature.
Imagine if each of us could likewise both allow and celebrate the diverse paths that are available as ways to connect with God. We’d likely be too busy being ecstatic and joyful to have much time (or desire) for judgment and separation…the two most commonly traveled paths to war.
L’Shana tova. May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of health, prosperity and peace.