Monday, October 29, 2007

Who's God?

At first I was just going to respond to Gluckel’s Sunday post, “Look Ima, there’s God.” I decided to write my own entry because the question of how we (and our children) come to know who God is dovetails with a small moment last night that, I hope, will be a turning point for me.

I don’t know how children come to know either.

Our rabbi’s drash on Vayera, brought up an interesting point about Hagar as a mother and a woman of faith. The reason she gave up in the desert when Abraham kicked her out of his household, though she had provisions, and though there was clearly a well nearby, was that how we relate to our God/gods determines how we relate to the world. If we deem God capricious, we are passive or we respond with aggression.

If this is true, then it seems to me that we naturally shape our children’s understanding of God based on how we behave and interact with the world. Of course, parental influence, though potent, isn’t fatal. I’m just saying.

My parents are people of profound faith. When our house exploded into flames 30 minutes after we’d left it, I and my 3 siblings began to cry, but my 31-year-old mother stopped us and said we were not allowed to shed a single tear because God had saved us, and she was so thankful.

Which brings me to what I hope is a turning point last night. What does it say about my perception of God that--I’m ashamed to say--I engage in lashon hara when I’m gripey?

Last night a friend took me to Target—we had to take my sleeping baby because we went after her bedtime. As we were leaving the store I noticed baby’s gorgeous faux zebra skin, monogrammed blanket (a present from my cousin) was missing.

My friend suggested I return to the store and look for it. I was exhausted and negative. “I’m sure someone took it.” It was probably the woman who had been shadowing me all evening in the baby clothes section, reaching over my baby to do price checks (instead of standing on the side) when I’d stepped away for a second.

Of course, you all know what happens next. At the last moment, I decide to return to the store. I don't even make it to the door when I see the blanket, folded and tucked protectively on the wall.

I vowed to my friend then and there I’d never speak negatively about anyone again. A blanket is a small, tiny thing. Much smaller than a house or a life. But suddenly, I was sick of being petty.

What will it teach my daughter about God if I am always judging and expecting people to judge me?

I’d been excusing my lashon hara with feelings of exhaustion and self pity. But I actually feel a lot better since I made my decision. Let it be God taking pity on my daughter and opening my eyes, as s/he did those of Hagar in the desert, so I can see the well (God’s work in the world, and maybe even my way through this book I have to write to get tenure at my job!)

Thanks for your post, Gluckel.


therapydoc said...

Oh, this is all about emunah. We're supposed to Let go Let G-d. The blanket's gone? Assume there's a reason in that, or go look for it (or the blanket), but never think anything happens because people make it so.

Maya said...

No. The opposite.
The blanket's having been there was immaterial apart from its pedagogical purpose. It demonstrates that pessimism, negativity and self pity isn't more "realistic" than blind faith. In this case, the woman is not a thief though I'm a spreader of gossip, which is like being a murderer. Which is worse? If I believe in God, does my God say it's okay to murder someone who steals my blanket? Is God going to smite me (perhaps in these days, symbolically, through gossip) for a fault? My point is that how we ACT in the world demonstrates what we believe, and I would think you'd agree with that.

lsw said...

Beautiful post. We should all have more of these moments as parents. We all set enough limitations on ourselves. How wonderful it would be if we could stop ourselves from imposing those same limitations on our children! Of course, it becomes harder as they become older. Some say we gradually become our own mothers. In your case, that would be a good thing!

Anonymous said...

Maya, I am with you. The way we act does tell others what we believe. Unfortunately, it also tells us what we believe, and reminds us that we are completely imperfect human beings. I need to join Lashon haRa'ers curb my constant desire to be bitter and nasty about others. I would do better to turn inward and think a bit more before I speak. I'm trying this approach in my life as a parent and it is working well...but I haven't even begun to touch the rest of my life. Glad to have served as a catalyst for your thinking, as you have done for me as well!

Anonymous said...

Maya: I had a moment today when I thought of you. I was on the bus. A passenger who absolutely reeked of urine boarded and moved to near me. I started to feel a bit sick and scooted to the other side of my seat. I kept thinking how disgusting it was, how could a person live like this, etc. (this wasn't just a regular unshowered person). I felt grossed out enough that I got out a few stops early to walk in the fresh air. As I was moving to the back door, this smelly gentleman moved aside, and then graciously held the door open for me, and wished me a lovely afternoon, ma'am.
I was angry at myself for being angry. I was angry at myself for thinking such negative thoughts. And then I thought of you and your blankie. I guess we all have our own blankies...

Maya said...

Gluckel, I would have done what you did--move away. There's a reason why we react so strongly to smells, especially unhealthy or unsanitary ones. But you're right--weeding out the root of lashon hara is really tricky, especially when the root is based in healthy instincts--like self preservation.