Guest Post by Asher Lovy
For the longest time I haven't been able to bring myself to say the name “Hashem”. It feels wrong to me, like I'm forcing myself to utter the name of a being I know to be something entirely false and contrived by people with whom I would never want to associate. Don't worry, this article isn't a renunciation of my religion. No, I believe with all my heart in "Hashem;" I just can't bring myself to utter that word, or even think it without cringing. When I need to refer to my Creator in conversation, I call Him God. That's who I feel my bond with-God. Hashem makes me want to run and hide but God makes me feel safe and loved and protected. I feel God, not Hashem, watching over me. God is who I pray to, not Hashem.
Until this morning I couldn't understand why Hashem is so objectionable to me. I thought about it because it's bothered me for the longest time; I couldn't say the name of my God without feeling dirty; I've really felt guilty about it. I thought about situations in which I would be inclined to discuss Hashem and, for the most part, they're all with people who use Hashem to their own advantage. People discussing the "kids at risk" crisis, or the latest "falsely accused rebbi" or hateful discussions about how gay people are the scum of the earth and intend to destroy us one male sexual encounter at a time.
I realized that any time I have ever been spoken to about Hashem, barring a few exceptions, it's been a discussion I wanted to run away from, with a person I wanted to berate for their ignorance. They were twisting my God into something so horrible that I can't even say His name as it is accepted in my religious circles. Hashem is a disgusting idea to me because the people who claim to worship Him and embrace His law made their idea of Him so reprehensible.
God, though...God is entirely my own construct. No one refers to God by that name in my community. In fact, most find it a bit uncomfortable when I do. But God is my understanding of my chosen deity and religion. God is someone who loves me, protects me, and gives me a better way to live my life. God is something I want to be closer to. God is something I can work toward. God is the deity of my bible, the savior of my nation, Hashem just makes me cringe.
Someone once asked me an interesting question: Does someone who has an easy life have less of a challenge in faith than someone who has a difficult life? As I was trying to come up with an answer, someone listening in on the conversation interjected and said “It’s two sides of the same challenge.” On the one hand, the person who has a hard life is confronted with so much evil and pain that he may lose sight more easily of God, because the God he knew and loved seems so heartbreakingly absent. On the other hand, The person who has an easy life never has to confront the question of God’s existence because, in a sense, he never really needs God for anything. God is incidental in His life, and, therefore, he may forget that God even exists and is the Master of Creation.
I had a hard life. Have a hard life. I’m only 21. I’m having a hard life. My mother abused me, physically and emotionally, for years. My grandmother tried to hold things together and keep the peace, but eventually she fell into her own depression. Life went to hell. We had money but no way to access it because my grandmother needed to sign the checks and she was, effectively, catatonic. I was a high school kid, suffering through my abuse, not sure how I would pay for food or clothes, never feeling safe because my grandmother could no longer protect me.
At first I cursed Hashem. I cursed Him for the life I had been promised by all my rabbis and teachers, and the life He had given me; I cursed Him for letting my abuser go on unchecked, as she pleased, while my grandmother and I suffered; I cursed Him for the things I had to do in order to live day to day; I cursed Him for not just taking my life and making it all end. Then I prayed. Every day, with tears in my eyes, I prayed, begged Hashem to help me. I stopped going out very much because I didn't want people to see me crying.
I begged my family to help; some of them knew what was going on, but for one reason or another, always had more pity for my mother than for me. My grades plummeted, and I started skipping school and staying home, online, where my real friends were. My family told me that I had to go to yeshiva and gave me plenty of rebuke for my "sins”. They seemed to think that if only I would be the perfect yeshiva boy they had envisioned, my life would somehow perfect itself.
All I saw were people who knew, but did nothing-who would judge only me, and focus on my spiritual shortcomings, rather than help end my abuse and help me heal. Hashem wasn't there for me, and those who worship in His name only used Him to make me feel worthless and guilty. Regardless of what I needed to do to survive, it always seemed contrary to what they believed Hashem wanted. If I skipped school in order to earn money so I could pay for things like food and clothing, things that most teenagers have provided for them, I was sinning. I was expected to conform to everyone else’s norms even though my life was falling to pieces. All this in the name of Hashem. This wasn't the life I had been promised; this wasn't the Hashem I had been told about. I stopped believing in that deity.
For a while I had no god. I tried finding proof for the existence of the one I'd abandoned, proof that he had never existed, or proof of some other truth entirely. The more I searched the more I realized I would never find proof: it always came down to faith. I examined my life and the course it had taken, and I couldn't deny the hand of some intervening being. Hashem and His worshippers had never helped me, but there were those who did, and situations which somehow managed to work in my favour that I couldn't explain logically. I had to finally admit that something was intervening, some sort of deity, but which one?
I started learning more about this deity I had once known as Hashem but now he seemed different, he seemed more like the God I could connect to rather than the Hashem which I felt so removed from. I began to understand His law, His will, the way in which he governs our world, His mercy, His judgement, His anger and kindness. I still wasn't seeing His plan as ultimately good, but at least I could begin to understand the rules-the method to His madness.
This deity I was getting to know needed a name. He was the god of the Judaism that I had accepted, but the feel of Him, and of my understanding of Him, was so radically different from the way I felt and understood Hashem that I couldn't refer to Him by that name any longer. Hashem to me was synonymous with unfettered, blind, zeal, to the point where it superseded His actual will. I named Him God. I still can't say Hashem without cringing, but I am an Orthodox Jew and I love God, because he is the God I chose, instead of being forced to accept. His law is the law I embraced, not the laws that had previously been imposed on me. He is, in every sense, my God.