Creation of Adam (illustrative).
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
I am in my early 30s and my wife and I are about to have our first baby. I was raised by haredi parents in Talmud Torah before I left the fold. Growing up, I always pictured God as a sniper ready and waiting for me around each corner when I did something wrong, and I was always doing something wrong.
I don’t want to raise my child with no religion but I also don’t want him to view God like I did. Especially at this time of year I always feel like a very bad boy. Any thoughts?
– Unmoored in Modi’in
The human-God relationship is often compared to that of a parent and child. You wouldn’t suggest that a child of a bad parent should avoid having offspring of his own, right? Yet this is analogous to what you’re implying.
Thankfully, you’re more sophisticated than you were in your youth, so let’s update the sniper metaphor.
Perhaps God is asking for your “best shot,” for you to always aim higher. A God-centered life is a bit like a lifetime of target practice. Always hold your aim, keep your eye on the prize, study the wind, collect data and squeeze slowly and steadily before zeroing in.
It’s not God who is the sniper. To create a false, reductionist view of Him molded by your interpretations, imagination and fears, is a bit like idolatry: creating a God of your own “imaging.”
Why not adjust your sights higher? Perhaps the God of Israel is asking us to always be the best we can.
Perhaps “punished” is how we feel when we consider the difference between our potential and our marksmanship? Maybe our life’s battlefield is about reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and imparting to our children that there’s more to life and God than the narrow view through a rifle scope.
Teach your child about God but adjust your field of vision to include His love, compassion and signature in our lives. To constrict your child’s notion of God is to create a fishbowl of stagnant water with no aeration.
Your candor is important because it unearths a thought about God that lurks in many people’s minds.
Such thoughts beget feelings which beget actions like leaving the haredi fold. Could we revisit this eye-inthe- sky idea, re-framing the “sniper” to a concerned “mommy,” lovingly beholding her child? Mommy knows that giving her child boundaries is a gift she must bestow, affecting growth and maturity.
The haredi approach to education appeals to each individual’s sense of responsibility. For every action there is a cosmic reaction. Enjoy life, yes, but heed your behaviors. Precisely because the world was created for you, you must be responsible for it.
Our love for mommy creates a desire not to disappoint her. So the real question becomes “how do I view myself?” and is there a gap between that and how I want to view myself? Having said that, I concede that if your community made you feel like a “bad boy,” it is to blame for skewering your love of Hashem, a love which should be pure and intimate. How can a person be commanded to love Hashem? Love is a choice, not a spontaneous emotion.
A choice must be cultivated, which entails work; an element which all relationships presume. Various metaphoric images are used to describe one’s view of Hashem: father/son, husband/wife or servant/ master. Hashem’s love for us embodies all of them.
We (and you) need to change our perspective of our connection to God to one of love as opposed to one of threats and punishments.
Watching Shimon Peres’s funeral, and hearing how his rabbi grandfather implored him never to forget he was a Jew, I was overcome anew with the sense of privilege to live at this point in history, in this miraculous land. Peres’s grandfather was burnt alive by Nazis; his grandson always fulfilled the obligation to burnish the legacy of his people; we’re all richer for it.
Does that legacy include believing that God is always watching us? I’m not convinced.
I myself never imagine God auditing my actions; I think He has more to worry about, if He worries at all. I believe that accepting His omnipotence doesn’t make anyone better or more responsible: there are saintly rabbis, and those who molest kids.
The same goes for atheists.
Somehow, strangely, living in Israel often excludes people who don’t endlessly welcome God into their lives from feeling connected to our traditions and heritage.
Sadly, so sadly, here you are either religious or you are nothing; the middle ground is wobbling and fading fast. Your question affects those of us who are not Orthodox, yet to whom Judaism is part of our blood: What do we teach our children? I’m for strengthening the middle ground: teach your children well. Show them the beauty in our age-old traditions: our values of peace, and family, charity and joy. Teach them to be kind, and good, and a credit to their nation. Show them the fun and comfort of our rituals and rhythms. Later they can develop their own relationship with God.
Comments and questions: [email protected]