This Sukkot we drove up to Albany to spend the holiday with my mom and her husband. It's a win win. She cooks and hangs out with my kids; I don't cook or hang out with my kids. See? I win and I win. Plus I happen to be one of those weirdos that actually really enjoys hanging out with my parents.
For Chol HaMoed, Hubby and me decided to dump our two littlest ones with my awesome Mama, and take our oldest boy to New Hampshire to visit a high school friend and his wife who have a daughter my son's age. It's a 2 1/2 hour drive from here, and it's through Vermont. I mean, seriously, Vermont! Fall! Foliage! If driving through Vermont in the fall isn't a religious experience, well then, religion has a lot to learn.
Our friends live on 25 acres of rural NH heaven with some pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, a couple of awesome dogs and a cat. As we relaxed by the wood stove, beer in hand, belly full of a kosher feast we took every leniency in the book to make, good friends, and happy hearts, the question, as always, came back to me: Does being an observant Jew make me a good person?
When I ask this question, I am not questioning if Jews should be observant, or if the Torah is holy. I am simply asking the question, is Torah helping me be the best me I can be? I think of the expensive kosher food I feed my children, when I could feed them healthier, more environmentally friendly, locally sourced truly good for you food, that isn't kosher. And it makes me wonder: When did it become so automatic to nourish our children's souls by being kosher, while ignoring their bodies, also gifts from God. And is it ok that the joy of the chaggim has been replaced by the stress of spending money on that not so good food and sweating and swearing in the kitchen, trying to cook enough for three days? And instead of spending some quality time with my kids before the holiday, telling them why it's so great, holy and special, I am yelling at them to clean up the house, not eat any of the yontif food until way past their bedtime, and leave me alone so I can get the work done. So again I ask, is this making me a better person? Can I do this and still be the best me?
I am not saying I want to give up my religious ways. When I shook the lulav and etrog in the sukkah, I was overcome a deep feeling of peace in my being. Feeling the connection between me and every Jew, all over the world, for thousands of years, who shook their lulavs in their sukkahs. The four species representing the different kinds of Jews and bringing them all together, as we are meant to be together. The deeply ritualistic act of shaking them in a rainstick-like prayer for rain. Because at one time we understood that rain equaled food. Nowadays rain is just something we curse at for it's inconvenience.
I also don't believe Judaism is just here to make us feel good. But when it becomes all stress and self hate for all the ways I can't live up to it's standards... And I end up giving up things, like being nice to my family, to try to hold to it's standards... Well, I start questioning. I have no answers. I am just questioning.
And writing about it gives me a kind of validation. Like it's not something I'm doing alone in my closet and need to be ashamed of. No. I am questioning because I believe that when I die I will stand before my Maker, and I want to be able to say, "Yes, these are the choices I made in my life." Not, "I don't know, I did it because I was supposed to."
The Good List
- My mama and her hubby being awesome with my kids and welcoming us into their home and letting us trash it while we're here
- Hanging out with wonderful friends
- My son having a BLAST with his girlfriend and therefor letting me and hubby just BE for 24 hours
- Woodstoves, beer, and a giant mastiff snoring on the hearth
- NEW ENGLAND IN THE FALL (Oh how I missed thee, New England, my true home!)
- Playing in the Putney river