Thursday, January 10, 2008

Doing Holy Work

I recently read something written by Jacob Neusner about saving Judaism through Philanthropy. I also recently read some stuff by the Rebbe Nachman of Braslov. All of this finding holiness in everything you do just seems antithetical to Judaism.

Granted I am no Chasid, nor am I mystic in any stretch of the imagination. However I can see the benefit to striving towards holiness in mundane actions.

Yet this idea that there is always holiness around makes me uncomfortable. Neusner writes that some Jews feel obligated to put on a kippah when praying in a shul or when studying Torah in a group setting. He asks in that case must these Jews "put on a kippah when he or she works for the Federation? ... Do they have to put on a kippah in the office of the executive director or president of the Jewish Federation?"

This is the kind of bending ideas of holiness that make me uncomfortable. Jews are commanded to give Tzedakah. They are also commanded to eat Kosher food and visit the sick. Then, according to this twisted-self-applied-logic, should these Jews wear a kippah for all of these commandments (or say all the time?) I get that Neusner's thesis is that giving will give back to the community, but come on already.

This is looking for holiness in all the wrong places. Treat people respectfully. Yes take care in your work and try to make the world better. But if we are to make everything about holiness, we will find that nothing isn't holy and therefore nothing is holy.

An Orthodox friend of mine mentioned (when we were having a similar conversation to this post) that at the end of Shabbat we pray and thank God for giving us the ability to differentiate between the Sacred and the Profane. So if we are always looking for the holy within the everyday, we lose. We all do holy work. But we also do everyday work.

It has been a while since I went all religious on everyone and this could be seen as a downer. But does anyone really believe that everything we can do could be holy? And more so that every we do is holy? This coming Shabbat we read about how God tortures the Egyptians. Is that holy?

1 comment:

Phyllis Sommer said...

is it about looking for the holy in everything or actually *finding* it? as in...maybe the thing that is important is the looking, that we can't actually *find* holiness everywhere except on Shabbat...when the very air is holy. maybe that's why we talk about the differentiation between the two-- on other days we look for holiness, on Shabbat we find it?

or not.