I always get to thinking of Rabbi Akiva and how they ripped the flesh off his bones and he died with the Shema on his lips thanking G-D for the opportunity to reach the point of where he had total understanding of the Shema. He gave thanks for having the opportunity to really reach up to G-D through this phrase that we say twice a day - morning and night. The Shema literally translated in English proclaims,'Hear O'Israel, the L-rd our G-D, the L-rd is ONE.' It is a complete denial of the false gods and those who do not understand G-dliness and the holiness of G-D.It reminds us that we are before the complete and perfect master of the universe. We cry out to the Creator of the cosmos and that is a frightening and awe inspiring thing when you think about it. We are but grains of sand, yet each of us is an individual creation that is unique in the scheme of things and important.
My journey to Judaism began many years ago as a child and my first full awareness of G-D was when I was only seven years of age. I was sitting on the verandah of the house where I grew up. I was quite depressed for a seven year old. I had two main things that worried me. I was struggling with the concept of my mother hating me - the child - maybe because I was female and a threat in her mind to her position in the home and in fact I think she despised me from early infanthood because I somehow challenged her importance as the only bride of three brothers in a large country grazing concern. I was not the only person she despised in the family. She hated my father's older brother and was not fond of my grandmother. My grandfather who died when I was three weeks old, she depicted as an angel and that my father was the image of him. I think back on how she spoke about them and especially my Uncle and it so wrong. This feud has carried on until today from the fifties and she is nearly ninety(in December).
The second was the holocaust and the murder of millions of Jews by German Nazis. My uncles as did my father had lots of literature and books about this and I was a quite voracious reader and read quite a few of them until my grandmother realised I was getting nightmares from these books and locked them away. I was also reading about the Japanese treatment of POWs and the Burma rail. The cruelty of some human adults bothered me greatly. I did not know we had Jewish ancestory until much later on in life. When I tried to question my mother about what she did to try and save Jews in Austria, she brushed my questions aside and told me not to read nonsense. We never talked except that she was always criticising me or belittling. So different to my grandmother, my father and my Uncle Dick. They actually talked with you and treated you like a person whose views mattered. With my mother, I always felt I was some sort of absolute nuisance and a pest.
Anyway as I was sitting on the verandah quite close to tears after yet another belittling and session of criticism by my mother, I received a most remarkable insight into the condition of humans. I literally felt an amazing presence of light and power that instinctively I knew no one else was aware of it. I felt enclosed in this light and power and protected by an invisible force. It was beyond comprehension of human mind to actually form a picture of what it was. It was as if nothing else mattered in the world but to have complete trust in that power. I have had that feeling several times since in my life and also it has warned me of things but not in words.
Once many years ago in 1979 I was at a point of deep despair and was working as a house matron in a Church of England Grammar School in Toowoomba in Queensland. One of my duties was to take the girls to a Church down not far from the school. They were walked down by myself and a teacher. I felt incredibly depressed by my family situation. I had wanted to spend some time at home but was not allowed to as my mother hated having me at home in the house. That emotion I have felt since early childhood and only after my father died did that feeling change to some degree, but only because I was of some use to her or had potential for us by her.
Anyway I entered this church and was immediately overcome by a feeling of how wrong this place was and how wrong what it represented was. It was not the first time I had had this feeling. In fact the first time I entered a church or chapel, I was overcome by a wave of absolute revulsion. There behind what was an altar was a man nailed on a wooden cross with a head of thorns and bleeding from his hands and feet where he was nailed. It was gruesome. It was a perversion. Unfortunately the Christian church has as its object of worship a man who was an Orthodox Jew several thousand years ago and they have perverted what this man taught which was in essence Jewish Orthodox belief and they have persecuted and reviled his family and his co-religionists in a most insane manner throughout the centuries. Both Islam and Christianity take their basic doctrines from Judaism but they have perverted and added to them. Once I was out of this church I vowed then and there that I should never ever go back inside a church for any reason what so ever. I would prefer death to that.
My dislike of Christianity has been further enhanced by my experiences of being bullied by a fundamentalist Christian principal at a school in Country NSW and also the librarian who I believe was quite insane in her desire to try and get me to give up my son so she could 'save his soul' and 'have him baptised and brought up in a christian home with christian values.' She and he both felt that as a single mother I was just another slut with a personality disorder and therefore unsuitable to bring up a child. Also I was older.
Anyway where is this leading to? Despite the fact that they tried to destroy my career and me as a person because of my Jewishness, I feel blessed that G-D gave me such a test of faith. How much easier it would have been to let them have their way and to just give in and commit suicide like they were suggesting and driving me towards such an act by their treatment of me. But I believe in G-D and there is more ways to torture a person than through the physical mistreatment. To belt someone is not half as bad as emotional maltreatment. Getting a belting, you recover from, but getting emotional batterings it is much harder to recover from unless you have faith in a Divine Power that drives the Universe.
Where is this all leading to? On Yom Kippur we are called on to access that Divine Power and ask for forgiveness for our failings and shortcomings and to reach up to G-D to cry out and to crave to the depths of our souls for a connection with the unknowable, the divine that goes beyond our limited comprehension. G-D asks of us to go beyond our limits and to have perfect and utter trust in all that He gives us in the year. The tests depend on us. He will take us beyond what we previously perceived our limits to be, if we allow it and if we strive. We pray and pray and reflect on how to be a better person and because 'SHEMA O'ISRAEL, HASHEM our G-D, HASHEM is ONE' we should have no fear of anyone or anything, except for G-D!