Before you can find God, you must lose yourself.
—Baal Shem Tov
The paradox of Jewish spirituality is evident in the very first Jewish man. Abraham loved God and was, in many ways, blindly devoted to God’s command. At the same time, Abraham was willing to argue with God and to defy God. God is Abraham’s father figure, and the idea of “God the father” — a father who is both compassionate and vengeful, intimate and distant — runs through the Jewish narrative.
Today, most Jewish men (and women) have a hard time relating to the idea of God the father. Teen boys in particular would sooner believe in alien life forms than they would a heavenly deity. But the questions about what is the ultimate source of meaning in life is clearly on their minds.
From the time of Jacob, Jewish men have been “wrestling” with the divine. In some ways, the spirituality of Jewish men over the last centuries has been defined by this wrestling, and approached from many different angles to answer the question:
“What does it mean to be made in the ‘image of God’? Is there some aspect of man that is also part of God? And if so, how does what we do in life change when we wish to connect to this aspect?
- To create a safe forum for reflection and discussion about God.
- To draw attention to the way that gender connects to discussions of God.
- To explore personal connections to prayer language and practice.
- To encourage participants to reflect upon their own beliefs and experiences regarding God.
- To recognize and validate the range of conceptions of God and faith, and acknowledge the potential fluidity of these throughout one’s life.
#1 Tai Chi Energy Ball
This activity requires some “meditative” space. It may be best if the guys do this in separate chairs, a few feet apart. Have them rest their hands in their laps palm up and do some slow breaths before you begin to exercise. The website below shows the steps to create this experience:
Click Here for the website.
After the exercise, ask:
- Did you feel something?
- Do you think that what you felt connected you to a spiritual energy?
#2 Close Quarters Chant and Drum
Cut off the lights and rely on a few flashlights or a lantern. Select a simple melody (nigun) that the guys can learn quickly and sing together. Have the guys come together in a close group, bringing chairs as close together as possible. First sing the nigun very quietly and ask people to slap the chairs or slap someone else’s back to the rhythm of the song. Then go faster and louder. Then slow down again.
- A simple nigun to teach is Nigun Simcho from Robyn Helzner:
- Joey Weisenberg’s series of videos helps explain the process behind crowd singing:
#1 What We Believe
Place these different statements about belief on pieces of paper around the room. Have guys go first to one that feels close to their belief, then go to one which feels far away. Debrief with them about why they chose what they chose and what it might say about them. Did some people pick opposite signs? What would other people in their lives say? For example, pick a grandparent and choose where you think they would go.
- I think that there is a God who created the world, but I do not think that God rewards and
- punishes people.
- Sometimes I?think that good things or bad things happen to people because of God.
- God is teaching them something.
- God is a word and an idea, but isn’t something real. God does not exist like a tree exists.
- God is present in my life everyday. I pray and connect to God all the time.
- God is like an invisible energy of love that connects all beings. It isn’t a person, but a force.
- I think God is an idea that worked a long time ago, but now that we have science, people should realize that God is not real.
# 2 Film Clips on God and Atheism
All of these clips are meant to generate questions about God and the God idea. The Rabbi David Aaron piece is, without a doubt, the most focused on arguing for God — so it is probably best to show that one after one of the others.
- The Architect from the Matrix:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mod6xr-lyBc&feature=related [This video is unavailable at this URL]
- What is God from George Carlin on God:
- Bambi vs. Godzilla:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpBkc2jK-6w [This video is unavailable at this URL]
- Rabbi David Aaron on “God isn’t a being”:
# 3 The “Masculine” God
How is God gendered? This selection of videos raises questions about how God is “male” and problematizes that idea.
- Lewis Black (watch until 4:06):
- Lewis C.K. on God and Abraham:
- Chef on South Park explains his theology:
- # 4 Jewish Prayer
- Mattisyahu “One Day”:
- How is this song a prayer?
- What is he praying for?
- My Jewish Learning video on How Jews Pray:
Four Jewish Thinkers on God
Choose from these texts to offer a diverse set of approaches to theology within a Jewish context. For each text, try to come up with a one sentence summary.
Rambam (13th century Spanish Rabbi/physician/philosopher)
People have thought that the word image, used in “In God’s image humans were created” (Genesis 1:26) meant that God has a man’s body … they believed in this, and thought that if you didn’t understand God as having a body, then you were making God into “nothing.” Maybe God was not flesh and blood, they thought, but God’s form was of the physical world. I refute this view … we are in God’s image only because we can experience the intellectual apprehension of the divine intellect. We ‘see God,’ or ‘vision God,’ not with the eye’s sight, but only with intellectual understanding.
—Moreh Nevuchim, “Guide to the Perplexed” Chapters 1.1 and 1.5
“The images we use to describe God, the qualities we attribute to God, draw on a male experience and convey a sense of power and authority that is clearly male in character…feminism demands a new understanding of God that reflects and supports the redefinition of Jewish humanity. The long-supressed femalenes of God, acknowledged in the mystical tradition…must be recovered and re-explored and re-integrated.”
—From “On Being a Jewish Feminist” 1983, pgs. 226-232
“Men attributed to God thei own highest desires and aspirations. They called him creator, protector, helper, sovereign, redeemer. These terms can now be identified with the highest and most significant aims of human existence, and achieve a new fore and vitality through this conscious process of identification… In the light of the present development of the God-idea, we can see that God is manifest in all creativity and in all forms of sovereignty that make for the enhancement of life.”
—From “Judaism as a Civilization” 1934, pg. 400
Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav
“There is absolutely nothing that doesn’t contain in it the life-force of God, for without this life-force it would not have any existence at all. Therefore, certainly, in all things, all deeds, and all thoughts, God is, so to speak, enclothed within. Even if a person sins and does something against the desires of God, nevertheless, there is certainly the life-force of God within that thing, only it is greatly concealed and constricted.”
“I wish it worked that way,” the Rabbi said. “But you have to find your own story.”
Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav said:
“Melody and song lead to the heart of God.”
- What leads your heart to connect to something greater than yourself?
- Was there ever a moment in your life — through music, or prayer, or a special event — when you felt a connection to something that might be described as God?
Create a “mad lib” in which they can choose names of God and endings for their personal brachot.
- God of our ancestors
- The Creator of the Universe
- Our Guardian
- The Mother of All Life
- The Father of All Life
- The Parent of All Life
- Sheltering presence
- The Spirit of the Universe
- The Source of Life
- The Merciful One
- The Electron Field
- Other: ______________
- Other: ______________
- making this food possible.
- making the earth which this food comes from.
- giving us the wisdom to grow nourishing and tasty food.
- for providing enough food for all to eat.
You might want to end the session by either sitting in silence or by teaching a chant. Here is one for Shema Yisrael: