What elevates us may be that which is most universally human, but sometimes I think that most defines us as individuals are our quirks and obsessions. Ultimately, to find a way to offer up the strangeness within us to G-d, this constitutes the basic religious project of our lives.

This is true not only of individuals, but at the tribal/communal level as well. This is one reason why the idea of a truly universal religion is absurd: If the raw material differs, how can the process of refning it be the same?

Postulate: That all spiritual experience begins from the particular and moves outward into the universal. That furthermore it is the nature of the particular experience from which it begins that defines the unique character of a religious tradition. It becomes an indelible fingerprint that can never be removed without killing the tradition, no matter how abstract and universalistic the tradition becomes.

In Judaism, the particular that our universal understanding of G-d grows from is a shared sense of history and national identity. Our conception of G-d began with the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was only as this idea was refined in the crucible of subsequent generations of prophetic insight that the universalistic kernel buried inside the national experience could begin to grow and bear fruit.

At some point along the way the G-d of Israel became also the G-d of all the nations, the transcendent Master of history, while still remaining at the same time our G-d, the G-d with whom we shared a unique and irreplacable special relationship. This seemingly paradoxical standpoint is not unique to Judaism. Indeed, it represents a central problem at the heart of any religion developed enough to have moved out of the stage of the purely particular religious experience. Nearly all religions recognizable as such have begun to make this transition. It might be said to define the boundary between religion itself and the more anarchic “spirituality” that forms the primal matter of more formal/developed religion.