I recently watched an illuminating interview with religious scholar and author Joanna Brooks on the Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
In it she describes her upbringing in a traditional Mormon household. She remarks that her religion was founded on a 14 year old boy going out into a grove of trees to ask hard questions and so she too ‘was taught to ask hard questions’ ever since she was a little girl. She goes on to say ‘I felt like that is what I should do. Life was meaningful, I should seek out meaning.’
I was on board.
Here was a mormon talking to a Jew on television and describing my exact life philosophy.
Who would’ve thought? We’re not so different after all.
And then she wrapped up her thoughts with the following statement: ‘There were answers. It was a beautiful, comforting, warm way to grow up.’
And then she totally lost me.
Her religion had answers?!?!?!!
And just so I’m clear here…those answers were COMFORTING AND WARM???
I was incensed.
I was jealous.
As a Jew all I have are questions. And in the rare event of answer I’m usually left questioning it.
Far from comforting.
I’ve been at this for 30 years and I still don’t know what God (if he/she/it even exists) looks like.
I have no idea where I’m going when I die.
And much as I can rationalize some reasons for doing so, I don’t ultimately know exactly why I fast once year for my sins other than that its written that I should.
But Judaism is not a religion of comfort.
It is a religion of commandments.
We don’t follow them for pleasure or for praise.
We do them because we’re told to choose life and pursue justice.
It is a test.
A test comprised of unanswerable questions.
Therein lies the beauty of Judaism.
It embraces ambiguity.
It sees a fundamental truth in nothingness.
It recognizes that we are desert wanderers seeking exodus, trying desperately to make sense of things that will never make any.
And in doing so, it destroys all those false idols that would try to convince us of anything else.