The Accent of Faith

by Rabbi David Zaslow
October, 2003

I remember being at the film “Schindler’s List” with an Israeli friend who pointed out that everytime Hebrew was spoken a different accent was used. Jews from German pronounced a Hebrew word one way, Jews from Poland pronounced the same word differently. But my Israeli friend pointed out that the accents in the movie differed within the same family, and she did not think it was a “continuity” error on the part the film’s director, Steven Speilberg. Rather, she thought, that it was a subtle statement that all Jewish people are unified, even when there are differences in accent. A personal story: I remember in Brooklyn that some of us with heavy accents pronounced the word “oil” as “earl.” My dad, for example, would be in a restaurant and say, “Pass the earl and vinegar.” Then in the early 60’s a pop song came out called “Duke of Earl.” And how did my father pronounce the title of the song? He’d say “Duke of Oil.” Like any good teenager I pointed the contradiction out to him. “Dad,” I said, “You say ‘Oil’ when you should say ‘Earl’ and you say ‘earl’ when you should say ‘oil.’ Can’t you get it right?” He laughed and jokingly said, “Mind your business. It’s my accent!” I got the point, and today I get the point at an even deeper level than my father may have intended. A spiritual journey has an accent. One of us may prefer rituals and formal services, another prefers deeds of loving kindness. Each mitzvah is part of the accent of our souls. Some of us prefer communal prayer, others prefer to perform g’milut hasadim (deeds of loving-kindness). Some prefer quiet meditation, others prefer ecstatic davvenen (prayer). There is no right or wrong about our choices, there is no better or worse since these choices are not in the category of morality. A spiritual accent is simply the way we filter the Divine commandments and shape them to suit our own individual and communal needs. Each accent has its own innate beauty. But the secret to deepening our spiritual path is to keep reformulating the way we speak and to permit our metaphorical accent to take on new shapes and sounds. In Judaism this means to continually take on new mitzvot and add them to our repertoire of Divine responses. In this way we better ourselves, better the world, and make deeper and deeper connections to the world of the soul. The world we live in is but one dimension within many worlds. There are worlds above this world, worlds below this world, and worlds within this world. Some call these worlds realms, others call them dimensions, and some prefer to call them levels. The labels are but metaphors pointing to the depths of reality. Not just the simple reality of our day-to-day lives, but the totality of reality which encompasses everyday existence and the transcendental. Studying Kabbalah we learn (Mee-malay kole ole-meen v’so-vayv kole ole-meen) that G-d “fills all worlds and surrounds all worlds.” There is no “outside” G-d to worship and believe in. There is no artificial split between the transcendence of G-d and the immimance of G-d. Worlds within worlds. Dimensions within dimensions. It is all part of a single fabric. May Hashem bless each and every one of us to fix the personal fabric of our souls where it needs to be fixed. May we blessed with the courage to adjust our behaviors in ways that put us more and more in touch with the Divine.

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