Updated: Jan 11


The saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” presumes that once under the threat of death, the most avowed atheist will plead to God for help in order to live. But how about in when waking up to a freshly wrapped day? Who does the atheist thank? Perhaps nature. How about when there's good luck? Who gets thanked then? Exactly who is the recipient of gratitude when things work out?


What about our daily experiences? Are we like the "everyday atheist" who has no need for regular interactions with the Divine?


How about when we find ourselves avoiding an accident and call out “Thank God, I almost hit that car” or when we mindlessly say “Thank Heaven, I remembered to do…” .

Are we able to pause in that moment and actually focus on our gratitude to the Creator? Or do we just move on….?


We also tend to write off happy coincidences as just ‘good luck’ or we might even thank “Lady Luck” for our good fortune. Worse, as Jews, we might mindlessly request that others “cross your fingers” (of Christian origin, referring to the cross) or “knock on wood” (ditto plus pagan origins) when we hope things will work out in our favor.


Yet, when we experience pain or are filled with darkness, we might reach out, calling out to the One Above for solace from suffering. Or when we need answers for the unanswerable. The times of intense struggle are often when we tend to reach out to a higher power, to the One who might listen and receive our pleas. Is it possible that our everyday language might be a stumbling block for us?

Our uncomfortable feelings with invoking God’s name might be due to several reasons, but one could be the difficulty in acknowledging God in language that doesn’t fit the Jewish concept of God.

Rabbi Jay Michaelson says

“Judaism would be better off without the phrase “belief in God.” First, it is a Christian phrase, not a Jewish one, and it suggests that the essence of religion is faith – a Christian value. Second, the phrase implies a certain kind of God – a God in which one either does or does not believe, probably an anthropomorphic God, a cosmic puppetmaster who sorts the bad people from the good, and makes the rain fall.”

Michaelson states that the phrase “Belief in God” should be trashed in the ‘lexicographic graveyard’.

The trap that we might fall into is thinking about God as apart from us, instead of a part of us.


Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes about being in ‘radical amazement’ for existence itself, which is God. When we recite the Shema, we’re not just saying that God is One and not Two…we’re saying that God is All. Everything in our lives is part of the grand wonderment that is creation. When we can experience life in that way, by regarding the world around us as special and sacred…and keep that within our minds even during the darkest days, we will be connecting with the spiritual deep within us. It means turning off our own naysaying ego that interrupts with “but that’s not realistic”, “that’s too difficult to do on a daily basis”, “who has time to focus on that all the time?”, “I couldn’t possibly ignore all the bad things around me”, “that sounds too loosey-goosey for me”, and all the other blocks that will work their way into our path.

Ignore those voices. Pay attention to the smaller voice inside you, the voice that is part of something bigger and greater, the part that is aligned with Love and not Fear.

Try it.

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How different am I this week than I was the week before?


The chameleon has it relatively easy. Spending not too much energy, he gets a whole new look and adapts well to his environment. The visible outer change is prompted by a detailed inner process. We can learn from that.


Every week, I meditate a bit with a kavannah (stated intention) before ushering in Shabbat's glowing candlelight. It is a brief glimmer of time to check in with myself. Did I progress this week? Was I kinder? More giving? More attentive to loved ones? Did I procrastinate less? Did I do what I set out to do? Did I change?


Sometimes the answer gives me a sickened regret for time not well spent. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov minces no words when he says:


If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for tomorrow?

Thankfully, I will get another chance. As I usher in Shabbat, I focus on the beautiful teaching that all that was unfinished from the week is considered complete, the culmination. So, I get a reprieve. I get to pretend for a full 25 hours that all is as it should be. I love that teaching.


In a few days, we will welcome the secular New Year 2021 with arms wide open, ready to put 2020 to bed. On countless fronts, the year has been incredibly challenging. The only thing left for us to think about is how, in 20/20 our eyesight/awareness might have changed for the better. And we can be grateful for that.


So, the same contrivance that works so well on a weekly basis--thinking that all is well and complete just doesn't hold true for almost an entire year.


This sounds crazy, but for this reason I find myself oddly hanging on to 2020 a bit, like a person who is not quite ready to let go of the lifeboat in order to climb aboard the rescue ship. What? Have I totally lost it? I am being saved, why am I languishing around?


It comes down to not being quite sure that I actually did enough of what is truly important in 2020.


Despite all the zooming, tik-tok'ing, cooking, baking and cleaning---I am not sure that I journaled enough, prayed enough, talked to God enough.


I am not sure that I cleaned enough of my own soul's 'shmutz' (Yiddish for dirt, rhymes with "puts") that tends to block my inner being.


For me, being on a path of growth means just that...being committed to going from one place to another. And I have to leave the old place in order to start anew.


It is in our tradition, we are a people who leave places to start again in new ones. We have thousands of years of journeying in our Jewish DNA, beginning with Abraham and continuing on in almost every story in Genesis...we leave and finally arrive.

It's been our history, chased out by pogroms, massacres, Inquisitions, death marches. We begin again.


So, I will begin again. I will get into the rescue ship, glad to leave 2020 behind, committed to undergoing chameleon-like change in the year ahead.


Starting with my inner soul, hoping that my outer behavior will be a reflection of my new colors.




When we encounter another individual truly as a person, not as an object for use, we become fully human. Martin Buber


The middle-aged grocery store clerk was puzzled for the third time by the vegetable that moved down the conveyor belt. I felt a little bad that she had to interrupt her scanning rhythm to look up the price yet again for an unknown vegetable. After I told her what they were (leeks), I ventured “You must have to remember a lot of different vegetables”


Yup, especially since I don't use any of the produce here. I don’t cook…


Really, how do you manage that?


In great detail she told me that her father lived with her, his health situation, her obligation to care for him, and her choice to buy only frozen food, since she only wants to prepare what she can 'stick in the microwave'.

I tried to convey concern through understanding looks and responses, made more difficult by wearing a mask. Still, as we spoke, her face got more animated and her eyes brightened.


She revealed so much about her life to me in such a short time and in the process, made me more sensitive to her life situation. All in a few sentences, with a pitiful amount of effort.


It is so unbelievably easy to bring a little humanity into our interactions.


Martin Buber (1878 - 1965) writes about two kinds of relationships in his book I and

Thou. First is the type he identifies as a transactional relationship, which tends to be utilitarian.

You’re just a waiter/teller/cashier/delivery person) so I don’t really need to interact with you.


What can you do for me?


I don’t have time, but just give me the bill/receipt/total/message.


Buber calls this type the “I - It" relationship and describes it as 'monological', meaning each person is talking at someone, not really with someone. It's like a conversation we might have with a bot in a chat box. Each party says what they want to say, and nothing about the interaction contains any personal recognition.


This one-way ‘broadcast' honors neither the speaker or the listener.

However, the "I-Thou" relationship is one that Buber calls "dialogical"; when two people relate to each other beyond the one-dimensional. They honor each other as people made in the Image of God ---B'tzelem Elokim. The highest form of this relationship is when we converse with God.


The people in the relationship recognize the holy in each other, and that special quality is a palpable sacred presence when two people get together. God is the electricity that surges between them when two people relate to each other authentically and

humanly.


It is the meeting not just of two entities, but of two souls.

Questions you might want to ask


Think about the relationships in your life. How would you describe them using this paradigm?

What about the quality of your relationships would you consider to be sacred?

What might hold you back from relating in this way?


For the full text of Buber's I and Thou, click here. https://archive.org/details/IAndThou_572/mode/2up

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