The other day, Saturday I was driving to see my Dad and passed an area in Long Branch NJ with a large Orthodox Jewish community. They were walking as driving on Shabat is forbidden to them. I noticed one young man [I guess between 25 to 30] who was walking alone and wearing a large brimmed black hat.
He was clearly not Hasidic because his clothes were otherwise normal and he did not have pais or side ringlets. He was looking down as he walked but what struck me was the way he was holding his hands. He was not moving them back and forth in an ordinary walking motion. He held them clasped together in front of him as he walked. He seemed totally immersed in his own thoughts, oblivious to what was going on around him. Of course I could not have observed him for than a few seconds but his image remained with me.
The word piety popped up from somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind. This young man seemed pious to me. He seemed to be deeply and personally engaged in a dialogue with the Divine. I have no idea who this man really was or is. I have no idea what he was actually thinking about– whether or not he was praying or just worried about his wife or girlfriend. But in an instant I was struck by his appearance of piety.
Although proud of my Jewish heritage and the enormous contributions it has brought to Western civilization, I have often been critical of organized religion and therefore ambivalent towads the Judaism of my ancestors. I am often ‘turned-off’ by the extreme dress and behavior of the ultra-Orthodox.
Yet there is a part of me that realizes that I am missing something–something deeply spiritual as well as religious. There was a reason that I responded as I did to this total stranger who I could observe only briefly as I passed him in my car.
The intensity of belief, the sense of belonging to a community of religious/spiritual co-believers is something that I don’t have. And furthermore–I don’t have piety. I don’t know what it is to be that young man in the black hat locked in deep thought with his hands held together immersed in something deeply spiritual.
As a metaphysician It is something that I know I will continue to explore.