Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hurting my Spiritual Advisor with the Truth

[Pre-comment to my mom regarding the content of this blog entry: Mom, I love you very much and I know you read my blogs. In this blog I talk about the concept of an orphan while describing a relationship with my Rabbi. I want to clarify, even before you read further that I think you and daddy raised me wonderfully and instilled in me many valuable characteristics and beliefs that I use to this day. I believe that you want what is in my best interests and for me to grow and be happy -- more than any friend or advisor ever could -- and I am your biggest supporter in that pursuit. When I use the word orphan, I am talking exclusively from a religious and moral perspective, as a follow up to our conversation on "breaking the rules". Again, I want to stress how much respect I have for you. I love you.]

As an addition to my entry earlier today regarding my love life and my impressions of the "Meet Joe Black" movie (see below), there is something else that is on my mind. I had a deep conversation today with my mashpia; (a mashpia is a spiritual advisor); he is the one that brought me close to religion and took steps to make me religious. He has been the one that has been patient with me all this time, answering all my questions, inviting me into his home to see the way a religious family lives, and being there for me at any hour -- even at 2am when I call him up to tell him I am coming over to have an important conversation with him and as a result, I keep him up for hours while we solve the problem of the day. I must stress the patience he has had with me, as I have given him a difficult time on my path to becoming religious. Almost nothing has been accepted by me at face value; I have so frequently come back to him with more questions and more challenges, and I have always required solid grounding for every explanation he has given me.

I am not his first student. He has mentored many people who are now happy, wealthy, married, and most of all, religious. Out of his modesty, he would never share this fact with me, but his past apprentices have come up to me and have become friendly with me out of their curiosity to find out who is his latest student.

What is often difficult for me to deal with is that like a teacher, he looks up to me and is literally proud of me as his student for making the leap from being where I was to being religious -- well adjusted, and educated in Torah law and chassidic (mystical) concepts. The loyalty I have for him is similar to the loyalty an orphan has to the benefactor who took him out from the dumps and taught him how to live and function in the world. I came to him confused about life and looking for answers, and he has tried to guide me the best he can.

Although, on days like today, I feel terrible disclosing to him that I am not holding spiritually or in practice where he convinced himself that I was holding. He sees such growth in me that he assumes there are no kinks behind the surface as you as the reader know there are.

And yet, as part the relationship between the spiritual advisor (my mashpia) and the apprentice (me), in order for the relationship to work and for him to effectively guide me, I must be truthful to him about where I am holding religiously and otherwise. This can be difficult because my mashpia is my rabbi and he is also my close friend, and as you know, there are some things you don't even tell your close friend. The unsettling part of this relationship is that when I don't tell him something, he senses it in me and he asks me some pointed question that forces me to either lie to him or to directly tell him what is going on. So last night he asked me a question, and those of you who I have e-mailed are very aware what the topic was of his question. I had no choice but to tell him the truth about my holy-mess. [I am really starting to like this phrase]

We postponed the sit-down conversation for this morning, where I figuratively took a deep breath, I closed my eyes, and I told him what was going on at the expense of looking like a fool, a moron, a crazy person, and a failure. Deep inside of me, whenever I have a conversation like this I fear him rejecting me and kicking me out of his office, his home, and his life, and/or I fear that he will misinterpret what I tell him and that he will start to distrust me, but that has never happened; it didn't happen today, and hopefully it will never happen.

Still, when I tell him confidential things like I did today, he tries to keep cool as if what I said didn't bother him, but I could tell that he felt as if I just threw 100 knives at his chest. He's been trying so hard to help me to be a well adjusted religious individual and he wants me to be happily married maybe as much as I want this for myself. However, every time he thinks we have come to a major point in my growth, I drop another ton of bricks on him. We ended with some advice that he had to share, along with someone he knows who went through the same problem I faced him with today to get some guidance on how to deal with the things we spoke about.

I don't know what I want to accomplish by sharing this with you. I am just expressing my feelings on a relationship that means a lot to me. I feel so terrible each time I confront him with something that is going on that I fear will lower his view of me. I wonder why can't I be normal? Why can't I be just like the other religious people who find their path in religion and follow it with a clear heart, or who on the other extreme reject it outright as nonsense and who never take anything anyone religious says with anything but a grain of salt? Why do I have to be different, understanding the logic and the spirituality of the laws and wanting to do them, but then being distracted by my own desires and my own thoughts which are so stubborn and so strong that they don't want to go away?

More pointedly, why did I have to be programmed so differently than the belief systems taught to us by the Torah (the bible; Old Testament)? One of my parents was religious, and my other one promised her he too would be religious when they got married. Couldn't they have chosen to raise me with one belief system or another instead of teaching me both the right way and the wrong way and letting me choose later for myself? I hear about so many parents who do this as if this is the righteous thing to do, and in my mind, my only understanding is that this is sadistic.

Teaching a child about the benefits of both right and wrong and then teaching the child how to wean the benefits from both sides do not cause the child to choose one over the other later on in life. Rather, it programs the child to have BOTH conflicting belief systems at work, in full strength, at all times. Maybe this is the lesson within this entry. Parents, make the choice as to what your children will believe and teach those beliefs to them, even if they will rebel later on in life. But give your children both philosophies ("this is how religion says to do it and this is how we believe is the right way to do it"), and your children will have on their hands, literally (excuse the pun), a holy mess.


if not now, when? said...

"I feel so terrible each time I confront him with something that is going on that I fear will lower his view of me."

I am very familiar with this situation - there is something very similar between myself and someone very close to me. But for the life of us, we can't figure out why, if we're so close, can't we move beyond these fears. why can't we just share what's in our minds and in our hearts without all the pretense?

There's sometihng about how much we treasure one another that we can't bear to disappoint one another. But when two people are so close, you would think that they would realize that small disappointments and helping eachother through hard times are part of what makes great relationships stronger.

This has got to be one of the greatest psychological/emotional hurdles out there.

"I hear about so many parents who do this as if this is the righteous thing to do, and in my mind, my only understanding is that this is sadistic."

I couldn't disagree more, we can attack this contention with a few statements accepted as fact.

I am human
I am fallible
I hold certain beliefs
I attempt to reach certain goals in life
I fail regularly
I am okay with that - though I try to do better next time

Judaism has been around for a long time
There are hundreds of mutually exclusive rabbinic opinions recorded in the talmud and other judaic texts
Today there are many possible ways of understanding judaism - some are consistent with one another, others are not.
There is NO SINGLE right path.

So what do we do with that? Kids aren't stupid. If they see me teaching them one thing (my code of belief) and see me practice something else (my failure) they will catch on to the double standard pretty quickly.

Further, If I want to give them the strongest, richest jewish education possible? do I skip every other line in the talmud where there is a divergent opinion or do I expose my child to all the beautiful facets that judaism has to offer?

When it comes to the right path in judaism, I have my own little theory. I call it the resonance theory of judaism. In organic chemistry there is a phenomena called resonance where-by it is impossible to accurately portray, graphically, the actual chemical structure of a molcule. The most famous example is a benzene ring:

convention is to draw 2 basic haxagonal rings with alternating double/single bonds where the double bond is in the 1,3,5 positions on one of the rings and the 2,4,6 positions on the other, arrows are then used to imply not a flux but a structure not entirely one, but not entirely the other.

the point is that no single representation is 100% complete or accurate, but it is impossible to graphically depict both in one drawing. it is a problem in human frailty attempting to define a complex form of nature.

I feel the same is true about judaism - even more so. Human frailty is bound to come up wanting when attempting to meet divine challenges.
this person has his traditions, that person has hers, and I have mine. but none of us have a monopoly on the truth, we're all just as right as the other - and at the same time just as wrong, we all do the best we can.

I think jewish law supports this contention - certain laws only apply to a kohen, others apply only to a non-kohen. some apply only to women, others, only to men. there are halachot about how to give a divorce, does that mean that it's a good thing to do so? Should everyone get divorced at least once so they can fulfill those halachot? preposterous!! How can it be that everyone does everything?

We can't and we're not expected to. Judaism has different paths to fulfillment to teach us that there is no one right way for everyone!!

Why should my child grow up believing that there is only one right way?
(but of course children need to be taught simple concepts of right and wrong in a black and white way early on - only as the child develops and matures can we introduce nuance into the education)

ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

Hirsch, when my messy week is over, I'd like to send you an email encapsulating my spiritual beliefs...I know you will find it fraught with things that would make you shake your head, but I'd like your perspective of it nonetheless. :-)