10 Shvat 5781 / Saturday, January 23, 2021 | Torah Reading: Bo
 
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The Noahide Focus



The challenge is to see Hashem wherever we are, through good and bad, whether up or down. When the physical world no longer fools us, we attain real spiritual maturity.

 



People forget that this world is a place of temporary significance at best, where a soul assumes a bodily form to perform a mission and achieve a needed tikkun. But if they’d remember that the life and health of the soul is our prime concern - and not the body – then their questions would fall by the wayside.

‘Don’t Forget the World to Come’
The Garden of Emuna, page 38
 
Back when I was a Philosophy major one of the philosophers I studied was David Hume. He questioned everything. I mean everything, even things that no normal person would ever think to question, like causality for example. To explain how Hume could question such a thing our professor took a dusty felt eraser and pushed it along the aluminum chalk tray. We watched the eraser move along and bump up against the spare eraser, moving it forward. All you are really seeing, the professor explained, is a sequence of events- Eraser A gets really close to Eraser B. You never see the causality. We posit it. But we don’t see it. That’s what Hume thought. Although, unlike me, Hume had no use for religion, he ironically modeled the kind of diligent questioning of ‘reality’ that I feel I must engage in to stay connected to Hashem.    
 
We see everything that Hashem does, but we don’t see Him, the Cause. We see everything He created, but we don’t see Him. He created me, the brain I’m using, the fingers I’m typing with, the air I’m breathing, the gravity that is keeping me in His chair at His desk on His planet- yet I can not see Him. He is sustaining it all, all of the time, yet I can not see Him. 
 
We talk to Him, but we don’t hear back, at least not in words. Our lives are a sequence of events that are designed by Him to be super physical to us, that dominate our senses, that scream for our attention. They are so real to us they seem like the end, but they are merely a means. And we are supposed to see the Cause of all of this despite the distraction of the noisy ‘this’ that He created. We are to look through the opaque objects of our senses to see something invisible. We are supposed to remember the World to Come, to put this world and everything in it to work to get us to this thing that is very challenging to even fathom for a moment. 
 
Ironically, when I try to imagine the World to Come and keep it in the foreground so I won’t forget it, this world that I’m stuck in now becomes a much nicer place for me and lots of people around me. But if I focus on the stuff screaming for my attention and forget about the World I can’t really imagine and the Creator I can’t see, my life and the lives of the people around me will stink. That is the life of a religious person. 
 
One of the really rewarding/not at all rewarding things about living the life of a Ben or Bat Noach is that we don’t have a culture that flows from our spiritual beliefs. If there was a way of living as a Believer back in the days of the Temple, for example, we only have the faintest, teeny, tiniest idea of what it was.  So there are no recipes passed on from grandma to grand daughter, no rituals, no artifacts. These things that connect a Jew to his or her past - or at least to some part of the tribe - we do not have. That is sad at times. And hard. To use the recipes of someone else’s grandmother feels odd. To play someone else’s games at a holiday can feel like imitation. Not so rewarding, not for me at least.
 
But like I said, in keeping with the seemingly incongruous demands that Hashem makes of us, there is a rewarding aspect to living as a Bat Noach without a culture. The trappings of culture can become things unto themselves. They can become the end instead of the means. It can become the Thanksgiving dinner where no one thinks about giving thanks. I could see myself slipping into that trap, meandering into a miasma of cultural curiosities. Then it all becomes something like pretty pictures in an issue of “National Geographic”. 
 
Whatever we have in front of us can become a distraction. We can be in a synagogue, on top of a mountain, or in a grocery store. It can all be a distraction. The challenge is to see Hashem wherever we are, through good and bad, whether up or down – that’s the Noahide focus and optimal-level faith that we should all strive for. When the physical world no longer fools us, we attain real spiritual maturity. And even then, there will be new challenges and distractions. In this world we must work, that means working hard like Noah. In the World to Come, there will be plenty of time for rest.




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