THE MARK OF A "RELIGIOUS" PERSON
There is not a day which passes by where someone, Jewish, Christian, or other, does not offer me the following declaration:
"Rabbi, I'm really not that religious."
As if in some way, one's lack of adherence to fixed religious doctrine makes them less worthy or glorious in God's eyes.
As if, in some way, our walk on earth needs to be validated by our connection to customs which are not necessarily outlined in the Torah or other document - but rather in the way men have interpreted them over the centuries.
Webster's Dictionary defines "religious" as "relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality, or deity."
Yet, within Judaism, there is no prerequisite to believe in anything. Rather, the Torah reminds us that the key to life is in the "doing." And through the doing, we develop a closeness with humanity, and ultimately with God.
I recently returned from a trip to Tel Aviv where I spent five days recording the reflections of Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, who for forty five years served as spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford. His example has been a light to me.
Often, in the morning, as we paused from our discussions, we would walk along the narrow streets and alleyways of Keren HaTeimanim - the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv.
As we wound our way towards a small synagogue or café, each time that a person approached us, Rabbi Ehrenkranz, with great energy, would exclaim, Boker Tov!! (Good morning!
At first, the approaching person appeared startled. After all, the rabbi had entered their personal space.
But after a half second pause, in every case, that person looked up and replied with a big smile Boker Or!! (May you have a morning of light!!) or Boker Metzuyan!! (May you have an excellent morning!!) or Boker M'Vorach!! (May you have a blessed day!!)
And the light of that initial greeting was magnified.
As I looked over my left shoulder at that random person we had passed, I noticed an extra bounce to their step. And this occurred more than twenty five times over the five days.
Imagine if we each did the same. If we took the initiative to say "good morning" or "good evening." If we asked someone "how are you," and really mean it, "how did you sleep" and really listened, or "how can I help you," and remained prepared to assist with a full heart?
I was reminded of our walks through Tel Aviv as I reviewed this week's Torah portion, Terumah (Gifts).
The Children of Israel are asked to provide contributions to build a portable shrine to house the Ten Commandments and the Holy Ark.
The Torah provides an exhaustive list of gifts which were donated. This included yarn, wood, tanned skins and a variety precious stones and metals.
The idea according to God was for the people to build a sanctuary so that, "I may dwell among them." (Exodus 25:8)
Our tradition teaches that when people donated according to what was in their heart, then the spirit of God flowed within their homes and gathering places, and most importantly within their relationships.
Some gave funds. Others provided materials. Others served as designers, laborers and artisans.
It is not that different today. Some within our community volunteer time, while others provide monetary support. Many within our community cook for the homeless or donate to thrift shops, and perhaps most importantly, in the words of the Torah "teach these words to their children."
It is important that we connect with our faith and traditions through ritual and prayer.
But perhaps the mark of a truly "religious" person lies within their dedication to make another's life better.
And when we do that, when we raise the spirit of a family member, a friend, or someone we have never met, in God's eyes, indeed we have practiced religion in the deepest and most meaningful sense.
I believe that "the ultimate reality" as defined in Webster's dictionary, is that this world is based is on love, compassion and loving kindness. And God put that process in motion.
In all of my conversations with those who claim to be "non religious" I have yet to meet someone who does not carry God's spirit, or who in some way does not contribute something sacred and glorious to this world.
For as this Torah portion teaches, God does not need a beautiful synagogue to live in. Rather, when we give our best to each other, we create an environment for God to live among us.
It is as simple as looking at someone we know, or a stranger, and saying, "good morning."
And if each of us did that just a few times a day, what a wonderful world this would be.
In spite of all the rules and regulations that seem to detach many from organized religion, the Talmud tells us, quoting the Prophet Micah, what God truly wants of us.
"Only to do justice, and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8). That I believe is the "ultimate reality" which rests at the core of life.
And if we follow that path, we when provide gifts of the heart to others, God will dwell among us.
And we shall be a blessing.
And this world will be a much better place.
Shabbat shalom, v'kol tuv (with all goodness).
Rabbi Irwin Huberman