Jewish advice: Act as if there’s no God

I had a stunning three-minute conversation with a spiritual counselor the other day that became one of those indelible moments that I know will stick with me for a long while.

As it so often happens with me, it started with bread.

It ended with this simple message of Jewish wisdom the counselor said dates back a long, long way. The advice, he said, was “act like there is no God.”

But I am ahead of myself. Let’s get back to the bread, back when one of my daughter’s texted me and asked me if I wanted to make Challah.

“I have no idea what that is, but I can try,” I texted back.

“It’s a pretty basic sweet bread,” she wrote.

“Ok,” I said.

Then she threw in the kicker: “And it’s braided really pretty.”

Huh? I thought. Suddenly it wasn’t so basic anymore.

I really don’t know a thing about Jewish traditions, except that they are very meaningful and shouldn’t be trifled with. I felt a bit like I may soon be trifling with some ham-handed attempt to make a bread I’d never even eaten. Still, when asked I try to say yes, so…

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The dough part was indeed easy enough.

But the braiding part, well that was indeed “fancy.” I took to YouTube. I figured if I could learn to butcher a pig on YouTube, I could braid some bread.

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Turns out you can learn much of anything on YouTube. Anyone need a surgeon?! I’m willing to try.

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In the end, I was pretty happy with the look of my first Challah.

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Happy enough that I sought out the aforementioned Jewish spiritual counselor for his approval of my effort. I showed him the picture and he seemed genuinely enthusiastic with his praise, which was surprisingly meaningful for me to hear.

He told me how his grandmother would make Challah for the Sabbath meal so that at least one time a week they could eat with knives– without any instruments of violence on the table– since the bread could easily be pulled apart. Since both this counselor and I also share ties to an Anabaptist tradition that value peace over all, it was especially thoughtful and meaningful.

What a legacy, I thought.

So I told him about my daughter, who is not Jewish, but who volunteered to cook the meal for Tuesday night’s observance of the start of Hanukkah for a friend. I explained how my daughter’s friend converted to Judaism and hadn’t gotten much interest in the holiday observances from her family. My daughter decided to cook for her and celebrate together their shared faith, even if under different religious umbrellas.

He looked pleased. That’s when he told me about the old Jewish idiom to act like there’s no God in the world.

He said it just as he was dashing off so I lingered there with the idea on my mind for a while.

If there’s no God, then we must do what God would do. We must be the God others need, which is exactly what my daughter is doing for her friend and gave me the opportunity to participate as well in my very small way of baking and braiding bread (I also made some jelly donuts… though I’m less sure of what part of the meal they play).

So I stood there a moment thinking about this and all that happens around bread and how so often God is in the simplest things like bread and wine, which Jesus gave out on his last night to remind us to think of his life and role in this world every time we eat or drink it, which is pretty much every day.

Jesus might just have heard the same saying as my spiritual counselor did, I thought, because they are saying essentially the same thing.

As I think about these exchanges I realize I am embossed — as if stamped in a way that is hardly visible, yet indelible — with this idea of a significant approach to life as expressed by that counselor. Every time I see a pretty braided loaf of bread I will think of my need to act like there is no God in the world and be forever grateful there is.

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One thought on “Jewish advice: Act as if there’s no God”

  1. Thank you for helping me. I love food because its often loaded with memory, love and emotion. This bread will be shared with friends and was made with love.

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