The title of this blog, “The Safek” refers to the Hebrew word, safek, for question. Up until last summer, that question was my husband, who lived his life in the awkward position of neither being a Jew nor NOT a Jew for 7 long years before that question was answered. (Spoiler alert…he was a Jew all along!) I began this blog because of his unusual, but still too-common situation, where his status as a Jew was a question that we had to work to get answered. A year ago, we got that answer and the rest of our family became Jews as well in the process. We’ve been living an Orthodox Jewish life since.
But that doesn’t mean that there are no more questions.
Being a Jew, at least in my experience, means being open to difficult questions and asking them. It means wrestling with this life rather than accepting the easy answer. It means even asking questions in the grocery store every week. Is this kosher mark kosher enough for my community? Are raspberries worth the work or risk? It means asking questions in every aspect of my life and having my Rabbi’s cell phone number in my favorite contacts for some of those questions. How badly did I mess up this spoon? Does this need to be toiveled (immersed in a ritual bath before use)? Should I take the promotion that will mean more time away from my kids?
Two months ago, we made an even deeper commitment to our community here and bought a house, even after just a little over a year ago selling our dream house in Alaska and being so certain we’d never want to go through the process of buying again. We did and we’ve been the proud owners of the Tree House, a 1912 fixer upper duplex that came along with a tree growing out of the chimney and 3 college girls as downstairs renters.
Hashem works in mysterious ways indeed!
Since then, it’s been a flurry of moving boxes and home improvement projects. In the first week, we discovered 12 gas leaks, 2 plumbing leaks and more thistles growing in the tiny backyard than I ever thought possible. We have dived feet first into building a home from the ground up within the solid bones of a place that has stood for well over 100 years. We’ve painted, repaired, taken apart, gotten in over our heads and then called in the experts…and we’ve only begun.
Last week, I took a break and on Shabbos hosted a women’s class in my imperfect mess of a home. We gathered in the dining room where wires and an old gas pipe from the old gas lights were exposed overhead and air conditioning units blasted cool air to help us all survive. My Rebbetzin (our Rabbi’s wife) sat at the head of the table and we talked about the 12 pesukim, 12 readings that our Rebbe (of blessed memory) gave to those who follow him as the 12 most fundamental teachings to follow. They’re taught to children, they’re considered so foundational, but this summer our women’s class decided to look deeper into each one each week.
The portion for the week taught at our home was:
“All Israel have share in the World to Come, as it is stated [Isaiah 60:21]: ‘And Your people are all Tzaddikim [righteous].’ They shall inherit the land forever. They are the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.” [Sanhedrin 90a]
Notice, there is no mention of having to have a perfect dining room, without dubious wiring or pipes in the ceiling.
It doesn’t say Perfect Jews have a share in the world to come. It doesn’t say Jews that never forget a mitzvah or a prayer or never lose their tempers. It doesn’t say that only Jews who do this or dress that way or study this or who live in that kind of house. It says “All Israel have a share in the World to Come.” No matter what your background or past or failings. Even if you’re a convert from Alaska struggling to keep your house from falling apart, you’re included.
An even more striking part of this is the next line…”And Your people are all Tzaddikim.” On first read this seems to contradict a lot of teachings that teach us that Tzaddikim (truly righteous people) are rare, but in our class, our Rebbetzin explained that this is our essential nature, our souls, not necessarily how we show up in this life. Who we really are is righteous. Even the Jew sitting in a restaurant eating pork ribs has a righteous soul that wants to do mitzvahs. We all might get a little lost along the way, but there is always a spark within us that yearns to do the right thing. Our inherent nature is good.
Just like a house with “good bones” that needs some renovation. We may have a roof that needs replaced or need some paint, but, inherently, we are good and have so much potential with just a little bit of work.
As we enter into month 2 of our house work and our second year as a fully Jewish family, I think it’s an important lesson not to lose heart when things (or us) aren’t yet perfect. It’s important not to give up and to keep working on improvement even when it seems we have so far to go to get to where we want ourselves to be. It’s also important to celebrate the little successes along the way and realize that it’s the process that is important, not the reward at the end.
We’re taught that it’s through that process of wrestling with our imperfections and succeeding in overcoming them, even in small things, that Hashem receives the greatest pleasure. The pleasure I feel in finally getting a wall painted is nothing compared to that, but it is a reminder that even my small improvements on this project I call myself are worth the effort. There is nothing too small so as to be insignificant or missed. Hashem keeps all my before and after pictures and loves them all, even when I look at myself and just see so many works in progress.
Here’s to loving the process.