I am a Theological Weenie
As I began baking my challah today I thought about the three teens kidnaped in Israel. I thought about their families waiting, hoping to hear good news.
I also thought that by this time in my in box there would be a couple of emails asking me to think about the welfare of these boys as I did the ritual “taking of challah”. Taking challah is one of the 613 mitzvot/commandments that is specifically given to women. There is a tradition that prayers offered by women while doing these mitzvot are extra powerful.
Over the years I have received requests asking me to keep particular people in mind as I make my challah. Truth be told, I often hold two opposite beliefs in my head at the same time when confronted with such a request.
One thought is deeply moved by the prayerful thoughts of lots of different people working together. I remember how when I was in eighth grade, during the Yom Kippur war we were plaintively led by Rabbi Simon in the chanting of Psalms recited for the State of Israel . On the one hand there was not all that much we could do from our safe spot in Brookline, Massachusetts. On the other, hearing the moans of my refugee teachers as they beseeched God while chanting those Psalms was deeply moving.
Later that year a classmate in the fourth grade was dying of cancer. We joined together in the days before he died to chant Psalms again.
Both my school and father came from a rationalist Jewish tradition. The current focus on Kabbala and overt spirituality and folk /magical traditions was very far from the religious life in which I grew up. My father when asked about the efficacy of prayer used to often reply that God wasn’t a vending machine and could answer a prayer with a “No.”.
In the Jewish Day School that I attended we were taught that the Torah was given at Sinai. We were also taught that if you give up that belief you are deprived of your portion in the World to Come. My father, was trained as a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He was steeped in the more more historical, archeology influenced approach to the Torah. When I was in fourth or fifth grade I remember hearing him speak from the pulpit about , the J and E and P strains in the bible. I sat in my seat and thought, “ That actually makes a whole lot of sense, but I don’t want to loose my portion in the world to come, so I am not going to believe what my father is saying right now”.
When my friend Marcia was dying I asked her if she wanted me to organize some people to recite psalms on her behalf.I began to cry as I was asking her because I knew that there really was nothing that medically could help her. I
Marcia said that she did not want Psalms.
So, while I kneaded my challah and as I took challah I thought about those three boys in Israel. I thought about their families. I thought about their captors and hoped that they might have some mercy on those kids.
I also wondered if my thoughts do any good at all.