I read something on DailyKos several years back by a prominent progressive that stuck with me. I don’t have the exact quote, but it went something like, “you can’t believe that truth can come from outside yourself and be progressive”. I don’t know how many would stand by this statement. I think back on the many mistakes I’ve made in my life, some terrible choices which I made believing they were right at the time, and I can’t but reject this statement outright.
There is something to be said for acknowledging our own human limitations and accepting the possibility that, while absolute truth exists, what we perceive as truth, and what we insist is truth at any given point, may not be so. I think this is self-evident by how our perception of truth changes over the course of our lives.
By the definition I believe is widely accepted, and which I accept, G-d represents the most fundamental, absolute truth there is, because nothing exists but Him. Judaism, as a system of tools for Jews to connect and relate with G-d, is founded on and reflects the idea of G-d representing, or existing as, absolute truth.
So, when someone like me, who knows myself to be fallible, attempts to connect with G-d, it is with the knowledge that I have a limit to my capacity, to my abilities as a human being, and a desire to receive something from outside myself - something good, pure and true - which I can not on my own achieve.
There is a Chassidic saying, “the more you, the less Him”. You can’t fill a cup already full of self, of ego, of hubris and arrogance. A little humility goes a long way. Some of us have had the benefit of humility imposed on us (i.e. beaten into us) through circumstances in life. There are only so many times a person can claim to be perfect, and experience a disaster that breaks their life into pieces.
One can’t help but think, after such an event… Maybe I’m not perfect after all. Maybe I’m not always right. Maybe I don’t know everything. I still believe in absolute truth, in purity and perfect goodness, but it is clear I am not its source. If it is not inside of me, then it is outside of me, and the search for truth begins.
This journey changes everything. It changes the questions you ask. Instead of asking how to make prayer meaningful to “me” and the things “I” believe in, one starts asking, the meaning is already in the prayer, how do I learn how to discover and appreciate it? Instead of asking, what role does G-d serve in my life, one asks, what purpose do I serve in a world that G-d created?
Instead of wondering whether G-d exists, and struggling with this problem, today I wonder whether I exist, under what conditions and for what purpose I exist, and struggle with this problem.