Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Times and The Siddur

Sometimes, G-d isn't so interesting.

Especially when the New York Times Magazine, in all its colorful and glossy once-a-week appeal, is stark competition for a small blue Siddur filled with a foreign language meant to be directed Above.

I was excited to have been able to snatch the magazine from a family friend. They had read it already, and happily gave it up.

So it was, before going to bed the other night, I decided to indulge in it's catchy headlines, artistic appeal, and overall ingenuity.

The magazine articles had everything to do with me. One stretch of pages painted a picture of how the internet is keeping musicians, artists, and writers in close contact with their increasingly demanding fans. I laughed my way through it, and creased my eyebrows in interest. The other article was by a Jewish writer, and his piece delicately described what it's like to write in times of war and conflict. I related to his sentiments about writing being an arduous task, but a responsibility, and ultimately a healing adventure.

My fingers left indents on both sides of the magazine. Reading it was a personal journey.

But personal journeys still require sleep, and my eyelids were starting to get heavy.

It was time to pick up my Siddur to say the nighttime Shema.

So down went the magazine, and with it all my enthusiasm, personal interest, and zest.

I placed the Siddur on my lap. Lifeless, as was I.

Intrigue had left out the fire escape. I was cold inside. Habit and it's dirty hands had me in hostage.

You know...sometimes, G-d is so uninteresting.

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It was strange making the transition from engaging magazine articles to the Hebrew words of constantly said prayers.

Scary, actually. I went from being an enchanted New York resident to G-d's robotic servant.

You see, G-d doesn't always feel so personal. And he certainly doesn't have screaming headlines to make him interesting. The pages of the New York Times Magazine will call you in with a rush. It casts a spell on us that gives us no choice but to submit. And it's an experience.

Meanwhile, G-d is asking for too much. He wants us to open a Siddur and have our hearts beat like we're watching a baseball game.

With a magazine, all I have to do is sit back and be dazzled. But while the New York Times presents me with information, pictures, and enlightenment, it is not like that with G-d. With G-d, I must be the prime player, the one who personalizes the prayers, exposes my heart, and demands a response. I must do my part to make this relationship work, without expecting his booming voice at every turn of the page.

So G-d holds back on the spark-and-dazzle effect because he wants my choice, he wants my efforts.

And yet, here he is watching me deflate upon opening the Siddur. It's pathetic.

Fortunately, with Shavuos, G-d gives us a chance to stand again at the mountain and hear his voice. When things get rote, G-d enlivens us, with the opportunity for serious introspection and rejuvenation. G-d comes to us and we respond. From that, we are meant to take inspiration to give us new strength in approaching Him everyday, to open His pages and actually see the personalized headlines. To bring ourselves to him at every moment, and experience an intriguing relationship based on our efforts, our searching.

A Siddur will never be the New York Times. But that's okay. When it comes to G-d, I am a partner - not a consumer. And when it comes to a relationship like that, it may take more energy, but there's nothing more interesting. This Shavuos, I find strength in a G-d that wants more than to amaze me - but for me to amaze Him.

13 comments:

Raizel said...

Mim,

Incredibly beautiful and poigniant piece; it brought tears to my eyes as I thought about the truth of this reality of a consumer driven world and how G-D makes Himself readily available, awaiting with open arms anytime we are well-minded enough to call to Him and remember which relationship is really the important one. Torah and our relationship with G-D is not a passive one, we can't sit and watch the show, or listen to the church chior sing hymns, or the pastor relay a sermon, we have to be active, on the front lines of duty at all times!

What a perfect reminder on erev Shavuos! Thanks MIM!

Love ya bunches!

stamaperson said...

Awwwwwwwwsome!!

Shvuos will definitely be different.

Chana said...

Unfortunately, I only saw this after Shavuos, but it's a great thing to think about as we try to internalize the tremendous gift we just received, once again. This topic definitely goes back to the whole gilui/etzem thing. Although gilui is more appealing, that's just the outer shell, golus. Etzem is the real thing and that's geulah. Thanks for the awareness to try to dig a little below the surface.

MC said...

wow.
i guess you can compare it to a candybar and a balanced meal. the candybar's well-packaged, exciting, and tastes great. the meal on the other hand seems boring and unappealing in comparison, but the meal builds you into a strong and healthy person whilst the candybar fills you with garbage...

jackie said...

Thank you!

chanahp said...

mimi this was a really honest article. it clarified my own struggle. thank you!

Random.Bochur said...

its a fundamental question: you don't want what you have. if you grew up being frum and it's a habit to observe the mitzvos etc, it's very hard to say where your true motivations lie. are you doing it because you want to, or because that's the way you were brought up?

Rochel said...

Loved your articles on chabad.org

Eagerly anticipating your next post!

P.s. what's up with the gurus? :)

Rochel said...

Loved your articles on chabad.org

Eagerly anticipating your next post!

P.s. what's up with the gurus? :)

the sabra said...

good

good good

chaya said...

OMG I have the same exact expirience!! If u dont mind Ill comment on the first part of the story. When this happens to me I react differently. 1. I think that ready these glossy pages dulls my senses, my heart. It drives me in a different direction, onto a diff plane, a very physical one. 2. I notice how meaningless, weak, diluted, the articles are, though originally my heart leapt bec I felt they were filled with emotions and expirience I can relate to. I feel I should perhaps write my own articles, it drives me to live my life. I think: I am similar to these writers and contributors yet I am privileged to have a life with meaning, direction, value. "our personal headlines..." I get it.

In all, I always thought that my spirituality benefits from -not- reading these papers. (though I argue that they necessary enrichment and a dose of diversity)

what do u think? (Is the end of ur article saying its wrong to read the NYT Mag?

P.s. Beautiful words!!

Mimi said...

Chaya,

The thing is, G-d is also in the New York times. Just in a different way. I don't see why it should be seen as dulling, driving you in a different direction.

Although I understand sensitivities to a certain type of exposure, I think it's important to find G-d everywhere - yes, in the New York Times Magazine.

My point here is to be as enthused about G-d when he is found in less "interesting" forms, and to take a more active role in the relationship, instead of siting back (like you're reading a magazine) and waiting for Him.

SJ said...

Yayy Mima! Having been away I just now saw this post...and it's teriff. Thanks!!