A Life-Lessons Story by Chana Klein
Who needs all these rules?
Who can live like that? Why would I want to restrict myself?
I wasn’t even raised that way.
I don’t have to do this.
Or do I????
“I love Jews,” a person who has Aspergers Syndrome told me. “Even though I am not Jewish,” she continued, “I love being with observant Jews because they have rules.”
For a person who has Aspergers Syndrome there is a lifetime struggle of knowing what to do and what to say to others. This woman’s experience with observant Jews was a respite from the social confusion she was accustomed to. She felt more at ease with her Jewish friends because they had obvious rules that all of them followed.
Listening to her comment made me teary with the same appreciation. I don’t have Aspergers, or at least I don’t think I do. I work with people on the Spectrum, so I feel a real kinship. But her comment made me realize that I, like this woman, have a very deep appreciation for the clarity and guidance with which Jewish Law has gifted me.
Before I found the world of Jewish observance, I constantly felt uncomfortable not knowing what to do and say in so many situations. I yearned for a voice from Heaven to just come down and tell me what’s right, what’s wrong, and that I am okay. I had yearned to understand and studied many religions in that effort. But nothing I had studied gave me the answers I was searching for.
In addition, I my discomfort with what others said and did put me in uncomfortable situations almost everywhere I went.
When my children were in the early grades, my family vacationed in a hotel in the Catskills. The evening entertainment was a comedian. His act started with off-color comments. I did not want my children hearing that. I went to take them out of the room. But the people I was with thought it was fine for children to listen to that. It wasn’t. I could never feel like it was. But I felt no one agreed with me and no one understood.
My increasing study of Torah and attendance in Torah classes introduced me to people who observe what I call “The Rules,” Jewish Law.
They invited me to Shabbos lunch.
At first I did not understand why anyone would want to eat lunch in someone else’s house.
“I eat with my family,” I thought. “Why would I eat in their house?”
But after some time, I began to accept the invitations. I sat in their homes and felt a comfort I had never felt in any place before. I felt the boundaries and at the same time, the love for people and for God, the caring, the great effort they made to do what is right.
I heard their longing to be close to their Creator.
I experienced their love for learning Torah and I learned with them or they learned with me.
I attended classes every night.
I listened to recordings of shiurum (Torah classes) and read, and read, lots of Torah commentary.
I found people who have the same values and taste in things that I did, people who had laws they followed.
I had found a treasure. I felt like I had entered Heaven itself.
My life-long questions began to be answered.
My hunger for knowing what to do was being fed.
In my daily, non-stop,Torah study, I learned laws, many laws. It was not like the other “religions” that were practiced only on Sundays. This is a way of life that we do every day.
I saw that when one is a Jew, there are things he does when he wakes up, when he goes to the bathroom, when he eats, when he speaks with others and when he goes to sleep. I learned about what I can say and what I cannot say. I learned things like what to do in a house of mourning and how to be at a happy occasion as well, even that has its boundaries.
I learned the importance of being there for the person celebrating a wonderful occasion as well as being there for the person who is not well.
Following “The Rules” is not just knowing what to do with people. It’s a way of connecting to God, and, to me, a way of never again being alone. I learned a way of thinking. I learned a way of being. I learned how to find and live my personal mission as well as how to be a part of the Jewish nation.
You would think that all those rules made my life restrictive. But they never did. Instead, the rules expanded me and expanded my way of life. Real expansion takes place with boundaries, within structure, with guidelines and authenticity. The rules that I have studied, and feel so privileged to have been a part of, have been a foundation for me to think for myself, and to expand my being and my soul.
There are rules for observing Shabbos (The Sabbath) and there are rules for Yuntif (Jewish holidays.)
Even after all these years, I still have to drag myself away from my work when it is time to light candles for Shabbos. But the renewal, the connection with God and with people, the creative thinking I find myself doing, are part of the ceasing of my everyday work activities. It’s not planned.
It just happens as a part of observing the day of rest the way it is commanded.
Each holiday has a specific energy and specific lessons to it. The learning goes deeper with each celebration, with each part of observance, with each part of following “The Rules.”
For example, a holiday called Tu B’Shvat, appears to be about planting trees, is also a time of prayer and judgment regarding the trees. Tu B’Shvat is also is a time of Divine Judgment for man who, it is said, is like a tree.
When I am asked my favorite holidays, I share that they are Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. And TuB’Shvat, all days of judgment.
But for a Jews, a day of judgement is a time of great happiness.
A Jews rejoices on those days of judgment.
Why would anyone rejoice when they are being judged?
I think it’s because of “The Rules.”
We as a people, and each of us as individuals, may be judged for good or for bad. But whether judged for good or for bad, each of us knows, in our souls and in our hearts, that those rules mean God exists that there is a Law and there is a Judge and even more importantly, God cares.
Being judged, means we have a God that cares what we do.
Copyright © Chana Klein 2015