Loss has a hybrid quality to it. It can be intangible and physical, general and personal. In my last post I discussed a general loss, in that case the loss of the beis ha-mikdash and how we may not miss it all that much. On a personal level, my greatest loss has been, unsurprisingly, my loss of faith.
I did not start out on this journey looking to lose my faith in Hashem, in His Word, in His disciplines’ interpretations; I simply arrived there, forced to confront that which I had always feared. Words like devastating and distraught are not apt to describe the loss and despair that engulfed me upon realizing that I was most likely mistaken in how I had organized my life from for as long as I could remember. I became a Rabbi, a pillar of the orthodox (and believing community), I aspired to be like everyone else, to be more like my colleagues. I wanted to go to my shul and preach and convince and convey all that my congregants were all too eager to hear. When I see my congregants -my family- when they ask me how I am, and I say “Baruch Hashem,” it is heart rendering and life affirming. My life would be far simpler if I could pretend all that I’ve learned and struggled with is simply the Yetzter Hara hoodwinking me yet again, or some inchoate need to pursue any and every taivah (as the Gemara suggests is the reason for those of us who dare to wonder). If I could do that, if I could find a lockbox for reality, then my life, my career, my family, they would all be in alignment and I would be living life without Loss.
Curiosity has never been encouraged in Orthodox Judaism. Questions are said to be approached unabashedly, with an eye towards the Torah and the meforshim answering even the most difficult of queries. But, amid any penetrating and analytical probing with respects to tenets near and dear to heart of Orthodox Judaism, questions are quickly dismissed with an appeal to authority and to taivos nashim (I exaggerate, but not by much). When I was a child, I was ever curious. I had to know everything about everything, so I read through the encyclopedia (I got up to the letter M). I was curious about faith and belief as well. I am not referring to the sophomoric questions regarding the conundrum of free will versus god’s omnipotence; those are the questions we would ask in High School to get our rebbi to forgo gemara. What do we believe in? How can one have faith in something that is and always will be unknown? How do we, as believing Jews, deal with the overwhelming evidence that puts the Torah and everything that came after on the wrong side of history? Should we just have faith? While that may very well be the truest definition of faith, it doesn’t explain why we should revere that exercise. Is faith merely a crutch to provide the answer when we can no longer point to the tangible and the verifiable or is it a leap of wonder and majesty, believing in something whose possible existence strains credulity? Is faith even a real emotion or is it more a state of mind?
Loss is not necessarily a negative emotion. We will all experience loss in some way or another. We have relationships with finite beings and thus we will experience loss, tragic and inevitable as it is, perhaps on multiple occasions. Fortunately, as I sit today on a low chair and fast the fast of a mourner, as I think about all that has transpired (and not transpired) on this day, I keep coming back to the idea that while Loss will always be with us, we need not spend our lives Lost.