Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2

May 25, 2012 by

Between All and Nothing: A Blessing for a Running Catch of the Torah

Before I skipped the holiday of Shavuos last year, I secretly broke Shabbos for months. I would check my BlackBerry in the bathroom, reading emails and Facebook but never responding. Eventually I grew bolder and started Gchatting with two or three friends on Shabbos—and blocking everyone else. By Shavuos, I was reeling from a major transition in my life, and decided to no longer pretend to be observant of halakha, traditional Jewish law. I had grown up totally secular and observing Shabbos and holidays is still far from second nature to me; as I scaled one emotional mountain, I slid down the other, and took a break.

Shavuos this year has been looming as a personal deadline of sorts. It is the holiday where the children of Israel stood at the foot of Mount Sinai (speaking of mountains) and received the Torah from God. They didn’t just passively receive the Torah, either—they committed to it, to all of the commandments, to Shabbos, to the holidays, the whole shebang. So it feels like a fitting time to recommit myself to halakha, both in terms of the significance of the day and the fact that a whole year has gone by since my life was turned upside down. I do like anniversaries; I like the cycle of the calendar, of marking special days—even, or especially—the difficult ones.

My Jewish world has always been one of binary choices. Am I in or am I out? Will I take on all or nothing? How can I possibly receive the Torah if I cannot commit to everything within it? Even the phrase “breaking Shabbos” implies: Shabbos is either broken, or it’s not.

Lately, though, I have been realizing in swirling pieces: life is not binary. I’m not ready or able to take on the entirety of halakha, to receive all of the commandments, to definitively say “This is what I’m doing and who I am.” I may never be! I’ve tried making those proclamations before, signing on the dotted line, but the black and white conclusions I reached were false, forced, and fell apart under the weight of a world that is not black or white but many, many shades of grey. Still, I don’t want to walk away from Torah and halakha, either; that world has become a part of me, and I love it fiercely and dearly. I realize there is true value in commitment, to making a decision and keeping your word. But I also believe in ambiguity, in complex realities, in contradiction. I’m slowly learning that maybe I am at my best with my feet forever navigating grey, complicated spaces.

A blessing for a running catch of the Torah, for those who are always moving and seeking: may we too receive the Torah this year, and every year, with all of our heart and all of our soul and all of our might. May we be secure in our lack of security. May we live fully within our Jewish identities, however challenging that may be. May we embrace Torah and a Jewish life while we embrace uncertainty and doubt. We must exist between all and nothing, and dance.

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