Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The football helmet and the friend.

I received an offbeat e-mail two days ago from an old friend asking me to instruct him on something illegal, and I was convinced the e-mail was spoofed. I was convinced my old friend was not the author because he would never ask me something like that, especially because of his profession. [Spoof as far as I know means the e-mail was faked]. I reacted swiftly and with annoyance and wrote back a response, and to my surprise, it was him and the message was real.

This brings me to two topics which are often on my mind. First, a person can lead one life in public, and a secret life in private. I don't know what drives us to put on a shell, a persona, a facade, but we do. We want others to see us in a certain light, so we change their scenary. Since the title of this blog is "Frumpter", it's appropriate to bring religion into the topic since too often the most devious shells are built and broken all under the guise of yiddishkeit. It is from here that we'll from time to time hear stories of people who have broken through the shell and done some unspeakable act such as murder, or other things I'd rather not mention -- we hear about them on the radio from time to time.

The breaking of the shell is the "postal man gone crazy" syndrome, where it is said that he takes out a shotgun, climbs to the top of the building, and takes people out of their misery when the misery is really his. Interestingly enough, our rabbis at yeshiva warned us about this in a discreet way. One rabbi once told me that yiddishkeit and being frum is like a football helmet -- you put it on, and you're ready to take on the world without fear of harm. The problem, as they explained it is that you can take it off just as easily.

The context of the analogy was that people would come to yeshiva, grow a beard and be the most chassidish person in the group. They would spend months or years in yeshiva and would be the frummest of the frumpters. [A frumpter is someone who is so religious that he takes religion to an extreme. From his point of view, he is the most religious person on the earth. I got yelled at once by one of these frumpters for cracking a joke at a shabbos table; I was scolded for not talking about Torah. Need I say that it is usually that type who is found eating pork in a back alley behind closed doors.] As frum as these people were, I was heartbroken on multiple occasions when as I would drive these bochurim (students) to the airport, they would tell me they were not going to continue being religious. In other words, yiddishkeit was like the football helmet -- they put it on when they got to yeshiva, and just as easily, they took it off when they left.

The main thought of this point is that it is such a benefit to be real. The football helmet, akin to the external wrappings (in clothing, facial hair, and outwardly acts) that a jew dons to feel jewish does not automatically change the person who is inside. I am very sensitive to this because my life has changed so drastically and I am always checking with an internal feedback mechanism to make sure it is still real. I would say I am like the Cohen in the Temple who walks around with bells attached to his garments. Yet, it would be too easy to fake being religious and slack on the details and nobody would know the difference. Back to the football helmet analogy, while the immediate goal in Judaism is to *do* the mitzvahs and the commandments, and to *follow* the laws, the end goal is to make doing them part of the person doing it. This means that it is not enough to put on the analogical footbal helmet; one must change the person underneath by constantly working hard on oneself and breaking the bad habits no matter what it takes. [With a smile,] keep your sanity and always be real.

The second thought which I am saving for another time deals with the concept of a friend. I need guidance understanding this topic more fully and flushing out the concepts and the issues. As a preview, there are friends who are real, friends who are situational, and friends who are transient. Transient friends can disappear for months or years at a time, but when you see them again it is as if you saw them last the day before. I have friends like this who while I don't speak to them for months at a time, I treasure them deeply.

I have recently been thinking deeply about my friends, and even more recenly on a sad note, I had a conversation whether it is fair for me to lean on certain individuals when they have given me evidence that they are not in the relationship for the benefit of the friendship. This is a tough and sensitive subject, and is touchy for the ones involved because there is a clash of beliefs regarding this topic. Further, the evidence is circumstantial at best because I cannot know what is going on in another's mind and by jewish law I must presume good intent.

On this I must also say that I have been pleasantly surprised who has come through. Like a wife, a friend must be sought out and found. Similarly, like a new continent or a new species, a friend must be discovered. To me, a friend can also be compared to a piece of coal -- very often it is difficult distinguishing one from another... but in those times of high pressure, just as a piece of coal becomes a diamond, so too does a friend shine through. This is a topic for future contemplation.

1 comment:

kermitt10 said...

I think it was Abraham Lincoln who coined the phrase:
"You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

I'm not sure about that, but one thing I am pretty sure about is that these people who wear helmets or masks or whatever are certainly trying to fool people.... but usually they end up fooling no one more than they fool themselves.

There was a time when yiddishkeit was necessary to our physical survival - in the ghetto world of "Fiddler on the Roof" as an example. And if Jews were not fully part of the jewish community then they were shunned from all communities.

Today that is different - in most places, (in the US at least) Jews are not targeted by anti-semitic acts: there's no need to take refuge in the tribe. Our neighbors are more accepting than ever - it's been said that they may love us to extinction.

While that may scare someone who has true feelings for yiddishkeit, I don't know why it would matter at all to the "helmet wearers."

There's really very little holding these people back from proudly admitting their desires to shun Jewish values.
but there is that little - the history, the family, the friends.

It's been said of the passover seder: there are "4 sons" represented - the wise, evil, simple, and ignorant. I like to imagine that they have a fifth brother - the one who didn't even show up to the seder - What is important to remember is that at least the evil son and all the rest are at the seder (for whatever reason) at least they cared enough to come.

Maybe one day the helmet wearers will stop fooling themselves and go one way or the other - but for now even if we can't respect some choices they make or actions they take, at least we know what community they consider to be home.