Monday, July 16, 2012

An Incredibly Uphill battle

Ed's note:  There is nothing in this post aimed at any one particular person except, of course, myself.  Any attempt to read it that way is just plain incorrect.

I admit to getting a small spiritual jolt from lighting shabbos candles.

Yes, I've only done it two times but still, there is that moment where you are in a sense the family gatekeeper from the every day into a set aside day.  It's just me and those two candles. It isn't about the words or the actions - it's that moment where you can almost feel the world changing.

Sadly, it's all messed up from there.

It's not just the Shabbos. The dutiful listening to kiddush, the washing, the mumbled grace after meals.  The sitting around while I wait for him to come home from shul.  The long days with no outside distractions.

I made a decision to try and become more observant for two reasons - reasons beyond the fact that just the fact that I was living at home I was basically observant anyway:

1.  For David; and

2.  Because I want to feel part of something bigger than just myself. And while I will be first to tell you Judaism is full of warts, I can also tell you the other religions are even more messed up (IMHO of course).  And I can also tell you a life devoid of religion and morality is about as empty an existence as one can contemplate.  I know because I tried.

So being more religious...

I'm not sure where it's supposed to come from.  Are the actions supposed to make me feel more?  Am I supposed to feel more and the actions then follow?  Am I going to be inspired by a book?  A rabbi's speech?  An inspirational moment in time?

I have no idea.  I have no idea how any of this works.  It makes me feel terribly confused and as though I'm somehow lacking in an area that seems so....rote to everyone else.

But I listen. When you guys talk to me I hear what you are saying.  And I wonder how many of you frum people are just "going through the motions" too.

Now don't get offended.  You are all better than me.  You all daven and admonish us to be holy, but I listen when you talk.  I hear what you say.  You all have your doubts and your questions.  The difference is you bury them under your full length clothing, your prayers and your years of guilt.

And I'm not judging.  I am just trying to muddle through - with no real idea HOW.

In many ways you are all luckier - you don't know any better.  You have been doing this by rote since you were born.  Unquestionably following the path.  Prayers.  Shabbos. Avoidance of speaking ill of others and covering your collarbones, knees and elbows.  You have avoided the great Satan (boys) - except, of course, when you haven't.  But it's ok because you have stopped that now and that's all in the past and if you slip again that is ok because eventually that will be in the past as well. 

Me?  I have no idea what I'm doing.  I'm muddling through.  And the going is slow.

Yesterday, we tagged along with my in laws to visit my younger sister-in-law who is working at a very modern ortho camp.  It was reverse culture shock - seeing a whole contingency of orthodox Jews who look like I do.  It actually gave me some hope - that maybe there is some kind of middle ground i can find.  except, of course, for those of you who feel that those people I saw yesterday don't quite reach the proper level to begin with.

So it's all uphill from here.


  1. It's like I tell a guy I know from college who's trying to become frum: go at your own pace, don't burn yourself out by trying to hard. If you want to get there, you'll get there eventually.

  2. your honesty is as refreshing as watermelon agua fresca. b'hatzlacha, and remember that self-sincerity and genuine joy can't be faked.

  3. One of my favorite R'Hirsch, which I mention all the time, is about the s'neh. Moshe sees that the s'neh (bush) is not burning but it is surrounded by fire. R' Hirsch says that similarly, we are not meant to be consumed by the Torah, it shouldn't burn who we are, our individuality, but rather we should use what makes us unique for the Torah. The fire of Torah should be all around us but it shouldn't burn who we are.

    My high school principal told us this senior year. She said how people think that when you come religious, you have to fit into this box and "burn" who you are. But you shouldn't. That is not what Hashem wants. He wants you to be you, the unique you that you are, and use it to serve Him.

    Just like if one letter is missing from the Torah, the entire Torah is pasul, so too, the Jewish people. There are many kinds of letters and many different words. But they are each unique and important.

    There is something to doing the actions even when you don't feel them because you believe that they are right and even if you don't eventually understand it, you will search for the answers to understand it.

    Search for the answers to your questions. Find the ways that you connect to Hashem.

    Much hatzlacha!

  4. Very nice - just I wonder how many people believe this and how many pay "lip service" to it.

  5. The truth is that most of us are muddling through it. We may be going through the motions, but its still hard to find meaning. Its hard to be correctly focused all the time. Your right most "frum" people are just doing what they are told and how they were trained all their lives. They dont ask questions..they dont push the borders. But for those who look for meaning...its not easy.Some days its clearer than others..but in the end of the day we are all struggling to understand and grow.

  6. I'll share with you my insights, for what it's worth. Your quibbles with Judaism can be applied to pretty much any aspect of life. Politics/society is a good candidate. Believe it or not, we don't live in the land of the free and home of the brave. If you peek under the surface you can discover all sorts of real nasty stuff that our society has been doing to its own citizens and others around the world for many, many years. Some people have real problems with it - most of us just accept the good and ignore or tolerate the bad and muddle through. Or you can look at the business world, or academia, etc. Pretty much anywhere you look, if you hang around long enough you will find hypocrisy, corruption and muddling through. I suspect it's because of the common denominator, which is that's what humans are like... You can choose to be upset over it, or like most people, you just find a way of tolerating it. A few people cannot tolerate it - if you have that personality, I suspect you will be fairly miserable.

  7. Be frum for yourself. Don't go through the motions just because you want to fit in or because people are watching. The whole point is to develop a special, personal and unique relationship with God. The motions are to help you develop that relationship and should be performed with that in mind.
    That's what makes it so pleasurable for people who get this right. You're connected not just to folks around you but to our entire history as well.
    Yes there are folks who do what they do because they don't know any better but most of us (at least that's what I'd like to think) do it for positive reasons.

  8. Rav Dessler, in Michtav Me'Eliyahu (in English it's available as Strive for Truth), has an essay on free will, and in it he talks about the idea of "mitoch shelo lishmah, bah lishmah" - that through doing mitzvot for less than ideal reasons, or with ulterior motives or whatever (lo lishmah), one will come to do those actions for the right reasons (lishmah). If I recall correctly, his take on it is - if you do mitzvot even though your heart isn't in them, if you're doing them with the goal that you should eventually do them with the proper intention, then Hashem will help you make that a reality.

    I agree with you that many people are going through the motions, at least to some extent. But that is not the ideal, and really all of us should look to you as an example for maintaining a meaningful connection with G-d in our own lives!

  9. AM - Agreed

    e-K - No doubt you are correct. But aren't jews SUPPOSED to be held to a higher standard?

    MGI - So long as that isn't all lip service, then yes

    Scraps - But that philosophy pre-supposes God is actively trying to help you do anything.