“Regardless of your religion or lack thereof, what is your motherboard, your non-negotiable, your red line, your identity anchor?”
At the end of his essay “The Non–Negotiable Judaism My Parents Gave Me,” Gil Troy, a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, writes:
The key question ultimately remains: what’s your Jewish motherboard, your non-negotiable, your red line, your identity anchor? For some it’s God, for others, it’s peoplehood. Without a cemented foundation, without a leap of faith or empathy, no Jewish identity can survive, resisting modernity’s lures to provide the continuity we seek—and the pathways to meaning we all deserve.
Before I share my answer to Professor Troy’s question, take a moment to ask this question of yourself: Regardless of your religion or lack thereof, what is your motherboard, your non-negotiable, your red line, your identity anchor? Write out you answer and review it now and then to see if it still holds.
Now, onto my response:
While I find the question of a motherboard compelling, I find Professor Troy’s choice of answers less so. For example, if God is to be my Jewish motherboard, God must be the God of Torah who chose the Jews from among all peoples to receive His (sic) one and only revelation (Torah) and the deed to the Promised Land in perpetuity. This tribal deity is not the God of my experience, and because I don’t experience this God as God, I can’t make this God my motherboard.
The God I experience isn’t a being or a Supreme Being but be–ing itself; not a noun but a verb; not Adonai/Lord, but YHVH/the Happening happening as all happening; not Melech haOlam/King of the Universe, but HaMakom/the generative tissue in which and of which all reality rises and returns (ratzo v’shuv). The God I experience doesn’t choose, save, damn, redeem, reward, punish, write or dictate books, or dabble in real estate. The God I experience cannot be the motherboard for any tribal religion.
If not God, then perhaps peoplehood. But if the point of taking peoplehood as my motherboard is to cement me to my tribe, this can only be done by obligating me to the commandments that define that tribe, commandments supposedly given by the very tribal God I don’t experience. So taking peoplehood as my motherboard is no more helpful to me that taking God as my motherboard.
“The God I experience doesn’t choose, save, damn, redeem, reward, punish, write or dictate books, or dabble in real estate.”
So, if not God or peoplehood, what then? Truth. Not Jewish truth, but Truth with a capital “T” and unlimited by an adjective. Is there such a Truth? I think there is. I call it Perennial Wisdom:
- All life is the happening of a nondual Aliveness called by many names: Allah, Brahman, YHVH, Mother, Spirit, Nature, Tao, Dharmakaya, etc.
- We humans have the innate capacity to awaken in, with, and as this Aliveness.
- Awakening to Aliveness grounds us in the Golden Rule: “What is hateful to you do not do to another” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a) and challenges us to “be a blessing to all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3).
- Awakening to Aliveness and being a blessing comprise the highest calling of every human being.
Professor Troy is right: we each need a motherboard, but when he suggests Jews choose a Jewish motherboard, he implies that Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Humanists, Sikhs, etc. each choose the motherboards of their respective tribes which leaves humanity with competing truths rather than uplifting humanity in a cooperative search for Truth.
My way is different. I suggest we all make the Truth of Perennial Wisdom our shared motherboard and then honor our various traditions by celebrating the diverse and precious articulations of Truth each of our traditions contain.
Keep reading: Rabbi Rami discusses Spirituality and Transcendence.
More from Rabbi Rami on identity anchors, from the print issue of Spirituality & Health.
Question: Our 10-year-old went to church with a friend and accepted Jesus as his lord and savior. The problem is, we’re Jewish! Now all he wants to do is live as Jesus did. What should we do?
Rabbi Rami Answers: My three-year-old grandson visited me after preschool the other day and said excitedly, “Jesus loves me!” “That’s great,” I said. “You know who else loves you?” “Who,” he asked. “Mommy loves you and Daddy and Bubbe and Zayde and Krishna.” “Krishna?” he questioned. Then we read a storybook about Krishna, Ganesha, and a couple of other gods he probably won’t hear about at his supposedly secular preschool.
As far as your son is concerned, help him live as Jesus did. Jesus
was an observant Jew, attended synagogue, studied Torah, argued
eloquently with his teachers, and cared for the poor and the powerless.
Teach your son to do the same. If he starts healing the blind and
lame—well, that’s a bonus.