Let’s talk about Spiritual Journeys

Between Us

The Torah readings on Simchat Torah, which begins at sundown on Monday, begin with the final portion in the Torah – V’Zot Haberacha (“and this is the blessing”) – in which Moses blesses each of the Tribes of Israel before he passes away. It is the culmination of a 40-year journey for Moses and ends on Mount Nebo, the vantage point from which he sees the land of Israel from afar.

Moses’ life was devoted to the journey, but ends before he reaches the destination.

I’ve been catching up on my reading during the Jewish holidays and just finished the newly-published book by David Gregory, How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey (Simon & Schuster). Well-known as a television journalist and for hosting Meet the Press, Gregory writes about his childhood, career and family. The book focuses, however, on his journey in search of answers to the “most important question I have ever asked of myself or anyone else,” first raised to him by President George W. Bush: “How’s your faith?”

Gregory traces his upbringing by a Catholic mother and a Jewish father and describes his identification with being Jewish as “cultural and ethnic”. He writes honestly about his alcoholic mother, his complex relationship with both of his parents and growing up in Los Angeles and its “The Synagogue for the Performing Arts.”

Shortly before marrying Beth, a Protestant woman with strong religious beliefs, she “issued the challenge that changed [his] life: I know what you are, but what do you believe?” Thus began his journey in search of spirituality and faith, for which he expresses great appreciation to his “friend, teacher and guide,” Dr. Erica Brown.

The book is an unflinching look at faith, belief, Judaism and the difficulties facing many interfaith families, including the challenge of not feeling welcomed by the Jewish community. “So I am on a search for a new kind of Judaism and a new Jewish language,” he writes.  “I want to adapt the beauty of Judaism’s four-thousand-year-old traditions to fit a pluralistic society and interfaith marriages like mine a little better.”

Gregory’s vulnerability and willingness to share his shortcomings set this book apart. He asks tough questions and does not pretend to give easy answers. He challenges as much as he illustrates; he lifts up as much as he is brutally honest. I found it to be an excellent, inspiring and provocative read.

Finishing this book just prior to Simchat Torah is serendipitous. Moses’ journey fell short of the ultimate goal, but what a profound journey it was!  The need to seek – and seek again – is reiterated by the tradition of celebrating the conclusion of the Book of Deuteronomy by starting immediately again with Genesis.

The final word of the Torah is “Israel,” which ends with the Hebrew letter lamed.  The first word of the Torah is “Beresheet,” which begins with the letter bet. Together, they spell “lev,” or heart — where all journeys of faith begin…and end.

Moadim l’simcha.

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