“We must listen carefully to what the candles are saying.”

I have COVID and am recuperating… I have had it since Saturday, I think, and went to the hospital to be diagnosed with it yesterday or Tuesday… Because of that I have not been doing much writing. Because of that I also consider myself quarantined through half of next week, though I hope I will at some point be well enough to make latkes for Chanukkah. And because Chanukkah is coming I got an email from Chabad regarding Chanukkah. And it quoted their rebbe, Rebbe Schneerson in saying of the Hanukkiah, “We must listen carefully to what the candles are saying.” Of course, for Chabad this means moralistic religious teachings–and there is no blaming them there… but for me it is the miracle of light, and the miracle that even home sick, somehow the light is still within my grasp… I may or may not light lamps at home (I hope to) but the real light of the Hanukkiah is within a person’s heart.

It is true that to Judaism, the willingness to fulfill the mitzvoth, the love of doing the deed commanded by God, is the point of Jewish practice. Jews believe that in some sense the feelings of the heart are situated by the deeds of the doer of the mitzvoth. A person can habituate herself to be kind even if naturally she is prone towards harshness. It is like the sage Socrates when somebody commented that based on Greek science he ought to be a very carnal disposition. Yet his friends scoffed: Who was more virtuous than Socrates? Then he said, “No, it is true, I indeed have to fight my natural disposition to be virtuous.”

That said, it is a lie that Jews only believe in “works” over faith. No, a Jew without a heart is an empty instrument, unable to play the melody of human kindness. It is only that kindness does not merely come from the heart and is not merely habituated, but requires both sources. I have pondered this a long time…

When I was young I was taught Salvation by Faith… and the version I was taught was very narrow minded, not doing justice towards what is kind about the Christian religion at all… but part of what was “wrong” about it was it de-emphasized works whether average hardworking-ness and also virtues based on “habit.” I know this was not the New Testament’s intent–or I hope it is not–but after listening to my Grandma Alderson tell me that Mother Teresa “had better not believe it is for her good works that she is going to Heaven, because if she does she is going to hell,” I just never was able to recover what was Christian in me as a child. And because my dad–while believing in Grandma’s beliefs–would be the laziest man alive in so many ways–I felt I needed to get away from those beliefs for health’s sake if nothing else, and that I needed to unlearn the habits he had inadvertently taught me like sleeping late in the morning and procrastinating when I needed things done… I had to straighten out my work habits in college.

My Grandma also had a lot to say about guilt, which along with fear was at the root of her faith… and I have had to overcome that… Which is why I picked up a teaching from Process Philosophy, or what I believe to be its implications. Process teaches that God is a Creative Being first, and that God is always changing, and works through History and not just through individual lives… well, I came to the realization once: becoming a good person is a process. It is not about guilt or continual repentance, though those things do have their place… No, the idea is that when a person does a good deed they become a good person, and when they do a bad deed, they become a bad one. And if a person works on good deeds–which is what the mitzvoth are–they become godly. Unfortunately, the person who does evil therefore becomes devilish. I do not consider it important to know whether evil has a personification which exists in reality. It is only necessary to know that what is good is what a person should do and what is evil should be avoided. This is hinted at in the Talmud when it prohibits demonology. It matters little whether real demons could exist; a person should not occupy herself with evil.

Anyway, though I hope I have candles to light–I certainly have a Hanukkiah–I know that for the sick person the mitzvah is not the same as for the healthy. The healthy person goes to the synagogue to pray. The sick person stays at home, recuperating… That way the sick person does not infect others, and when she recovers resumes her normal duties… Yet while recovering, she must think of those duties. She must merely lounge as if enjoying–to the degree that it is possible–Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” or the Holy Book of the Psalms. God speaks to us through the silences of life and not just through the noise.

Published by hadassahalderson

I am a professional author who lives in Wichita, KS. I went to Friends University and spent one year at Claremont Graduate University. My published work includes: The Bible According to Eve I-IV and Faust in Love.

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