Monday, August 29, 2016

When The Derech is "Off"

Recently, one of my children asked me,
  "If I'm not religious when I grow up, (like the rest of my husband's family) will you still love me?"
 What do I say to a child whose frum grandparents and tens of religious aunts, uncles, and cousins, never met him, and act like they couldn't care less that he exist, yet the family he has, who has no connection to Torah, loves and excepts him unconditionally?
I answered as best as I could.  I told him,
 "I will always love you no matter what.  Just like Hashem loves us no matter what.
"Hashem gave us the mitzvos because he loves us so much that he wants a constant relationship with us.  When we reject a mitzvah, we are rejecting that relationship. We are saying 'no thank you,' to a beautiful gift.  Every time we do a mitzvah, we strengthen that relationship and connection."

I grew up very sheltered, in a litvish, yeshivish family.
As a teen and young adult going out into the 'real world' and meeting different kinds of people, I did not know how to interact with them.  It was hard for me to relate to people different from my family, as real and valued complex human beings with strengths and challenges.  It was hard to feel comfortable with people who were different.  I had been given the message  that we were better than anyone not as frum as us, and this made "them" somehow shameful.  I was taught to be hyper aware and wary of external differences.  I was taught to judge others by their hashkafah and external adherence to halacha bein adom lamakom.  

The classic book, The Giver, by Lowis Lowery, portrays an all too accurate and sad example of what can happen when a family or society, embraces sameness as a value. We can commit moral atrocities without realizing it.
We can be so entrenched in obsession with sameness and rules that we lose a depth and perception, that is inherent in being human.
 This is a hole we can fall into.
Some of us live in this hole.
Here in our hole, we don't seem to feel things as strongly as others do. 
Maybe, because we don't need to.

This problem is regulated by a daas torah, that is not genuine.  This perversion of "daas torah" misuses the power given by us to a rav to enforce a control that is unhealthy and is backfiring.
It is done in the name of Torah, of halacha, and hashkafa.
Some of us accept this interpretation of daas torah above personal responsibility, perhaps because we feel safer this way.  Letting the rav decide seems to leave little room for worry, mistakes or danger.

Many years ago, I was a victim of this so called "daas torah."
I was completely cut off from my family by a rav, who claims to be a moral ethical person.
We must call into question a decision by someone in power, to sacrifice an individual for the (so called) benefit of the family or community.  When we are willing to  dispose of a family member in the name of the Torah, we are playing God. And we are also enforcing a deep fear of rejection in our family and community.

And it doesn't start with cutting people off.
It starts with a society and a culture where we are afraid to make mistakes.  Where we are afraid of being judged. Where for some, image is more important than integrity. A culture where we can be overly concerned with acceptance.  Where we can not afford to be real about where they are holding and what our struggles are.  We are told how to think and feel, and that we must conform or face rejection. 
Perhaps you are at peace with this system, but there are those, among us who are very, unhappy,
tortured even.
Some attempt suicide and some succeed.  Because an aspect of this hashkafah, and system, perhaps without meaning to, has stolen our humanity, our individual souls, without any awareness.  I believe that this is a characteristic danger of every fundamentalist community.

I would like to ask, why?
Why do some of us go along with a system that destroys from the inside?
Is it worth believing in a system that gently, and sometimes not so gently, asks us to give up our ability to think, our responsibility, our moral integrity, for perceived eternal happiness? For "olam habah?"
Isn't that what the fanatical Muslims, the fanatics of every community, do?

We all want a world that makes sense; a world where everything is understood, predicted, and explained.  Some of us have taken solace in a frum world, disconnected from our essence, for this reason.  A world were we don't need to feel or question too deeply.  A world where we don't need to see in depth, or shades of color, because that is a job we have given up to our rav, to our misunderstanding of "da'as torah."

We are currently learning pirkai avos where it is clearly written, "asai lecha rav," and yet,some of us have forgotten what it means to be able to choose a rav.
Some of us have allowed our schools, our families, and our neighbors choose our Rav in spite of the incongruence it brings to our lives.
Some of us have turned rabbonim into parents, and ourselves into obedient children. 
It may be more comfortable this way, but it can be very damaging to us as a family and as a Torah community.

Teaching our children to avoid and segregate from anyone who looks or thinks differently than we do poses a danger of polarizing and objectifying themselves and others. Segregation can turn people into black and white, good and bad, without room for complexity.  By refusing to allow our children to mingle and accept people (even while we may disagree with what they do) who are not exactly the same as we are, or who have not yet taken on certain mitzvos, can teach our children intolerance and fear of differences. Not only in the "outside world" but even within our own families.

We live in a complex world where a trusted rav can be a child molester, and a so called "modern, or non religious Jew" can live the epitome of a life of chesed and integrity.  We must find ways to strengthen our children's connection with themselves, with us, with their families, and with Torah, that does not include absolving them of responsibility for making conscious, thinking, choices.  We must help our children to separate people from behaviors, and refrain from teaching our children to judge others by shallow externals.

Our children need and deserve a deeper understanding of people, and the purpose of halacha Halacha is not about being the same or fearing differences.  Halacha is a tool we have been given to enable us to lead conscious meaningful lives as a moral and ethical society, in constant connection with Hashem.  Like any powerful tool it can be used to build, or misused to destroy.

Educating our children as to the halachos and importance of halacha need not (and in many of our families today, cannot) exclude encounters with others who are struggling with certain mitzvos.  Just as they surely encounter each one of us struggling with our own particularly challenging mitzvos.
 If we want to create a healthy Torah society, we must treat each other like the mature and responsible adults that we are, and allow for differences of opinion and interpretation of halacha, each according to his chosen rav. We must also allow room for struggle and growth as this is what our lives are all about.
 The Torah is certainly strong enough to allow for this.

In reality, our system thrives on question, disagreement, argument, dialogue and intellectual honesty.  Just open a gemara, and take a look.
Read the Torah and you will see that our greatest leaders made  mistakes and they are not hidden from us.
We, the Jewish nation, have a mission and we will never disappear.
 The Torah will never disappear.
People who know me asked me why I remain religious when my frum family treats me this way.  That is a question I have often asked myself.
The answer is simple.
So many important things were stolen from me, including  my family, I will not allow the Torah to be stolen from me as well.
The Torah is my heritage as much as yours, whether you are a rav, or a non religious Jew.
 When we forget this fact, the rest of the world is quick to remind us.

 We are one family.  We are a people who are supposed to set an example. We are supposed to be a light in the darkness.
We are parts of a whole and we can not afford to cut people off.  
We are collectively one body.
We are eyes, ears, arms, legs, a brain, and heart. 
None of us is dispensable.
I hope this is the message I give to my children.

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