Like many Jews in Atlanta, I have been a synagogue member for many years, but did not attend services on a regular basis until the last 10 years. My mom passed away 10 years ago, and I wanted to honor her life by saying Kaddish as often as possible. During these last 10 years, I believe my insight into and understanding of Judaism has grown dramatically. I now believe, that by not attending services regularly, I have been cheating myself.
Like many, I felt that I did not have the time and there were more important matters. I have come to learn that a break from our daily routine enhances the soul, enriches the spirit and improves our relationships. In a sense, you create more life by redirecting your thoughts and energy to a spiritual level. I have come to learn that by living your life in accordance with Jewish values and principles you are more likely to grow into a stronger, happier, more empowered, more successful person in many aspects of life, including family, friends, community, and commerce. I think attending synagogue adds more meaning to life. It makes one better able to deal with the tough times we all encounter (think of Joseph sitting in prison all those years, yet he continued to have faith in G-d even when his faith in people had been shattered).
As a result of attending services regularly, I have come to believe that the Torah, the Great Books and Judaism provide guidance In three major ways:
1. Who and What You Are
We are each a miracle created by G-d in his image, imbued with a soul, a spirit, and a connection to our Heavenly Father. On another level we are destined to toil in a physical, unforgiving material world that man has largely created.
2. Who Is G-d
G-d is our Creator, Creator of the world, our Heavenly Father, our Rock, our Redeemer, our Provider, and our hope when all hope seems to be lost. G-d is our Constant Companion, quick to forgive, always loving us. We pray each day to thank G-d for all he has provided—things we take too much for granted and need to be reminded daily how fortunate we are.
G-d is all around us. You put a seed in the ground and a tree grows. You are injured and you heal. G-d protects and provides for us in so many ways—too numerous to count.
3. Guidelines for Living an Empowered Harmonious Life
The two prior points were easier than this, because G-d is loving, understanding and forgiving; man, in too many cases, is not. The greatest challenge we all face is dealing with others in an imperfect self-centered material world. People have lived in organized societies for eons and it has been largely beneficial, but all good things have some disadvantages. In this case, some people can be unpleasant, difficult and dangerous. Judaism offers guidance for dealing with such people in a man-made world, such as don’t steal from others. Don’t tell falsehoods about others. Be slow to anger if someone commits an offence against you. Be slow to assume ill of others, because we often rush to judgment without all the facts and do not hold resentment against others, because it diverts your energy and makes you less effective
I believe that the guidelines in the Torah, Ten Commandments and the Great Books serve to enhance, enrich, empower our lives and moderate the pain of tough times. We are empowered with attitudes, principals and skills that allow us to travel through life with more joy, more success, more friendships and less hate.
Aside from these macro insights, other benefits I have gained by attending services regularly are: I know the services much better and my Hebrew has really improved. I feel a part of a larger community and a part of B’nai Torah. I have met some wonderful people and shared important moments in their lives. I’ve seen some beautiful children grow and become wonderful adults, including my own two daughters. I saw some wonderful people pass from this world to the next with grace, humility, understanding and love.
In addition to trying to get “the big things right,” I believe we can each add, on a daily basis, a sweet touch to the lives of others, a few of my favorite ways are; giving a kind word of praise and a “thank you” for being a friend.
When you are in a position of authority, bend the rules a bit for someone else who is trying to advance through life.
Don’t forget that others gave you a break, so pass it on to some one else—maybe a young person.
Don’t be bound by rules—be ruled by hope, compassion and friendship.
Allow the driver, handling a big rig a little time and room to make the turn. Let another driver into the flow of traffic and wave a thank you for the guy who allows you into traffic. Replace road rage with road love.
When I was a young pup starting my professional career I worked with a much older CPA; he often said “everyday is a holiday and every meal a banquet” what a wonderful way to see life.
By Al Shams, a Sandy Springs resident, member of B’nai Torah and a former CPA and an investment professional with more than 36 years experience.