Thursday, June 9, 2016

There's No There Here- On looking for the answer

I was running but getting nowhere. In fact, in what I knew to be an illusion, the finish line seemed to be getting father away with each step I took. It was like being trapped in a work of art by Escher. I was less than 1/10th of a mile from the of what was most probably, unbeknownst to me, my final marathon. I was spent and just wanted to be done. I’d worked hard enough. I just wanted to get to the end.

I read a lot. These days, much of it is about Judaism, God, prayer, and religious experience. I sometimes discover authors and thinkers whose ideas move me. While some fit into my current approach to my Avodas HaShem, others push me away from my comfort zone, reminding again, that I am not there. That place where I often yearn to be, where I can coast, knowing I’ve found my derech. The approach at which all the annoying questions fade away. Even when, on occasion, I think I might be there, something comes along to remind me that I’m not.

The sense that there is some thinker whose ideas I can swallow whole, unfiltered, sometimes appeals to me. I think of those whose ideas bounce around in my head, those whose words tug at my soul with the alluring promise of putting an end to my search. How do these approaches fit together? Do they? Can they? More importantly, are these ideas truly a part of me, or are they volumes tucked away in the library of my mind, where they will gather dust, or worse, be checked out on occasion to suggest to others that I have answers?

It’s a hunger I can’t fully explain. I think of the words of the midrash Bikeish Yaakov leisheiv b’shalva. Is wanting to rest so bad? What’s wrong with wanting to take a break from the challenges and vicissitudes of life? If I can’t get there, or more correctly, if there is no there to get to, how do I live in the search? How do I function in a community where so many seem to know that they have the answer? What do I say when I am asked a question that feels like a punch to the chest. asking more of me than I can answer with a quote or reference?

Perhaps the answer is found in putting down the books, at least for a while, and being alone with myself. Thinking about who I am, rather than what others tell me about who they are. Thoughts and ideas can be found in books, but not solutions to the biggest questions. Those questions need to be addressed in the quiet moments where others’ ideas are left behind, and the books we are writing about ourselves, however inconsistently and imperfectly, are read.


  1. You're living in the right place for an Escher fan... Our neighborhood is the only place in the world where going to shul is uphill, and going back is too!

  2. I find I use philosophy as a way to avoid experiential religion. After all, it's much easier to categorize various types of yir'ah and ask which is true yir'as Hashem than it is to actually develop that Fearsome Awe.