Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Hope as a four-letter word.

Someone wrote me a message as a response to all that has been going on with me here in China; the gist of the message was saying "maybe you're not ready to get married." While that may reflect a bit of truth, probably more so objectively, I think that I am in an emergency state where if I do not get married now, I will fall.

While you can not trust someone who is unstable in their religious observance, there is also the saying that "you strike the iron when it is hot." I am over three years out of yeshiva. I was the equivalent of being on fire when I left. In fact, I used to be blazing so hot that I was like a torch bringing people closer to religion as I would walk into a room. Even non-Jews have told me that just being around me and talking to me has had a deep effect on their connection with G-d. Yet the longer I live alone -- the longer I live with myself and my evil inclination -- the less hot I become every day. My passion for yiddishkeit (Judaism) has cooled to the point that I no longer enjoy helping others become close to G-d because I haven't felt close myself in some time. I no longer want to encourage religious observance because my own shortcomings blind me from wanting to lead others down that same path of hardship that I have traveled.

I commend myself for braving this path, and I commend myself for accepting the programming that one does not break the basics of being Jewish, namely keeping kosher, keeping Shabbos, and keeping other mitzvahs (commandments) such as wearing tzitzis every day, saying berachot (blessings) over food, drink, etc, keeping an unshaven beard (not halacha according to some opinions, but nevertheless important according to the Ari in Kabbalah), learning Torah each day, among many other commandments I have followed to this date, from which I hope I will never deviate.

However, with all this, each day my flame cools more and more. I have been infected by the desire for temptations of the secular world, (I wanted to write "affected" but after I typed "infected", it seemed more appropriate) and anger has let itself seep into my bloodstream from forgotten pleasures and unfilled wishes. I have come so far in so many aspects and yet I am starting to fall off of the plateau I have been treading on for some time.

The dominant reason for serving G-d is that in doing so, I would live a life of harmony, balance, and inner peace. Yet serving G-d has felt more like a daily struggle, battling oozing volcanoes and hot lava that threatens to consume me in my path to the good side. I am known by my friends to be a very persistent person with an inner drive that is insatiable and unstoppable. However, I have been feeling like I have been running at full speed on a nearing empty tank for some time now, and my machine's joints have not been oiled and so I am generating a lot of friction. Parts of me are even starting to burn out. I never agreed to run this religious race alone, in fact, I would tell G-d to go shove it if there was no woman preparing herself to become my wife from the time I decided to become religious. I traded my secular life and I stopped dating women over four years ago so that I could become a better man to the woman who I would marry after becoming the kind of religious man who could bring up the kind of Chassidish family that people I am close to would refer to as "the diamond standard."

This was a contract, and in my eyes, it has always been a contract. I fulfill my part of the bargain and I become religious and live a life of Torah and mitzvos (following G-d's commandments). In return, I would be given health, a good wife, children, and a flexible means to support my family and to give tons of charity to support others as well. These were the terms. Further, when I learned that it was not morally proper to be dating women before marriage, I broke up with the girl I was with (well, let's just say that I lost her because I became too religious) and so she found herself another person to date. I was told by my rabbis that because I stayed religious through the tough times, I would get someone better in her place. The goal was to sacrifice quantity to attain quality, and the unsaid terms of this agreement with regard to time were purposefully left out.

When it came time to get married, my rabbis were surprisingly unhelpful. In fact, they spoke encouragingly, but did not follow their words up with action. Since then, all my yeshiva friends got married, but when it came time for me, I was the odd man out. Even those that came to yeshiva and became religious after me have been married, yet I remain single.

Am I supposed to be waiting for something? Am I supposed to think that the more I wait, the better she'll be in the end? How many more years must I come home to an empty room? How many more years shall the only voice in my ears telling me everything will be okay be my own? How much more shall I improve myself? How much more shall I learn? How many more strides must I make in life? I am losing hope. It is beginning to sound to me like a four letter word.


Daphnewood said...

Zoe, with much respect you sound like you are putting this marriage thing before God. Yes, I understand it has been 4 years but you can't bargain with Him. You can't say "okay I'll live this way if you give me this" He doesn't operate that way. He gives according to our needs and yes, you do need a wife if you are getting the "itch" so be on the lookout. Sometimes the right person is right before our eyes but we are too blind to see. And other times we are distracted by the other attractive things we see to notice that God is actually trying to turn our heads in another direction. Maybe shidduch isn't the route for you (although as a parent I like that idea A LOT). Hang in there, Zoe. You are just going through a dry season. Your fire will return. *hugs*
BTW I am 35! but thanks for the young comment since I feel so old.

Anonymous said...

You misunderstand religion. First, saying "Shove it" to G-d is extremely inappropriate and I'm sure you know it.

Second, religion is not a contract. If in any way it is, you're the one who's constantly in debt, not Him. Do you have a contract with your parents? The commandment to honor your parents is (at least partly -- I'm not exactly sure) based on the mere fact that they gave birth to you. That's why the mitzvah applies even if one's parents are complete and utter jerks. This argument applies tenfold to one's relationship with G-d.

He doesn't owe anyone anything. Out of His generosity, however, He constantly gives. Since you respect the Rebbe so much...Don't you think the Rebbe was upset he didn't have a child? Don't you think many people are upset at G-d for many reasons? However, being upset doesn't give one license to ignore G-d. Is your respect for
G-d that small that you choose to ignore His wishes when He doesn't grant you a wife as soon as you want one?

(Not to minimize your troubles but your life is comparatively much better than most Jews (and non-Jews) in the past five thousand years plus.)

If for some odd reason you can't muster that basic respect and veneration for G-d (which your hasidic lifestyle is supposed to help muster even more according to those that live that lifestyle) I suppose you could choose to ignore Him, but you do so at your own peril. Do you really think living a life free of G-d is more satisfying or meaningful? I don't think so. Serving G-d in life can be hard but without Him, it's even worse. (Besides, who said life should be easy?) (I'm ignoring the schar ve'oneish argument since most people don't seem to care these days about it. However, it's still real.)

I'll leave you with one other way of approaching the problem which is hard to explain and a bit different. I saw it in a book by A. J. Heschel, the son of a Rebbe and the grandson of the Apter Rav whom he was named after. He turns the table around and explains that we people are G-d's experiment. He created us with free will hoping that we would choose right over wrong. G-d is relying on us and hoping that His experiment will work out. When things go wrong, He is more upset than we are.

Heschel makes his point with a story. After the Holocaust, he was on a train with an irreligious person. However, one morning he saw this fellow putting on his teffilin. Upon question, he explained that with six million Jews gone, he felt G-d must be lonely and he felt bad for Him, and so he decided to put on tefillin.

I know this approach is a bit "different" and doesn't really apply to your scenario (which doesn't deal with evil as the Holocaust does). I just felt I wanted to share it with you.

Anyway, back to my main points, struggling with G-d is okay but you need to keep things in perspective. He doesn't owe you anything and you owe him everything. Religion is not a deal or a game. You serve Him because He said so and you respect and are in awe of G-d and His majesty. If your soul doesn't feel that kind of feeling towards G-d (similar but much greater than the feeling for your parents), then serve Him beacause life will be more meaningful or because He will punish you otherwise but that is a much worse reason for serving Him.

(All the above assumes you belive He exists and that He said what the Torah said He said.)


Zoe Strickman said...

I am smiling because it is good to hear your true to the book, hard-nosed, Yeshiva University, misnagdishe opinion. You forget that while I do not represent Chassidim (so please do not trash them through me as I have been religious for less than five years and I aspire to one day be like them at their level), I am a human being with flesh and emotions. Dude, take your nose away from the nigleh and notice that I am a human being and I am a Jewish soul in trouble because I am feeling disconnected from the truth that you so enjoy preaching to me.

Of course I know that contracts and negotiations are not made with G-d almighty, however as you can see I am having yiras hashem (fear of G-d) and emunah (faith in G-d) problems which would get any Rebbe seriously concerned.

There is a serious difference between knowing the truth as referenced in your answer and doing the truth. I am not some horse to be kicked into gear or some sheep to be whipped into gear. I took on observance on my own free will and at great sacrifice. The amount of mitzvahs I have done and moreso, the number of sins I have abstained from over the past few years have been life altering.

I have told you off and written many "go to hell" e-mails, but I have deleted each and every one of them because I value your true-to-the-book answers. I agree with you -- sometimes what a person needs is a good kick in the ass with some tough-to-swallow hard advice. For this reason, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my many posts, and I hope my life's drama continues to be a source of reading pleasure for you. My goal eventually is to figure things out and to get back to the level of emunah (belief) that I was at when I left yeshiva and later went to law school.

Rowan said...

Zoe: I know we are of differing faiths, but let me just point out to you. I believe you still have a certain amount of fire within you. You unknowingly have been able to bring some semblance of faith to my life. I mean this in the sense that I look forward to your posts each and every day, and by being a focus in my mind, God has as well. These are things that I was lax in focusing on at best in the last few years. So fear not, you still have the embers, you just need some oxygen to renew your fires to their grander state. I truly believe in this and you.

Secondly, the last paragraph you wrote in these comments to JMO made me wonder whether law school is in conflict with religion. i know that many feel religion has no place in law and politics, and I wonder if your intellect and peers expectations surrounding you, make it difficult to not question your faith.

I only wish that there was an easier way for you to find the right woman. I feel great feelings for your prediciment. I so desperately want you to be happy and without the shidduch method, what choice do you have to find a similarly religious wife in a jaded faithless world? Do you know any available Jewish women that you could introduce yourself with or would this conflict with your interests of not being alone with a woman?

Just wondering: Do you ever miss that girlfriend you were speaking of earlier?

Anonymous said...

-- I wasn't trying to make fun of Lubavitch. I'm sorry if you took it that way.

-- You write "Of course I know..." Fine, my mistake. However, certain phrases and ideas in your post indicated that you didn't.

-- Good luck in your struggles and may you come out victorious.

(Oh, and I forgot to mention last comment: From my experience, the more you entertain your desires, the more desirous they become. It's easier to shun them completely. I've tried both. When I was younger I tried to never entertain desires or act on them. A few years ago I started to give in (because I was curious) and I've been struggling ever since, possibly getting worse.)

-- It's all for the best somehow. Maybe this is a yeridah le'tzorech aliyah.

Good luck again.


Zoe Strickman said...

JMO: I know you're being helpful, and I am taking your advice deep to heart. I don't like the idea of intentionally making the yeridah (going down) but I am feeling like I am about to fry out to zero at the rate I have been going. Yet with my recent lax observance of the positive mitzvahs like davening (praying), etc., I haven't felt so good either. I am just trying to figure out how to best be religious and to maintain my integrity. I don't like the fact that if I did loosen up on various observances, I also feel that they would make it that much harder to fix them later on, as you were saying. Thank you for your good wishes.

Rowan: Your questions about religion and law conflicting is an interesting question that I haven't thought about. What are your thoughts on the topic? As for women, I do believe any woman like me who I would want to marry is probabaly going through the shidduch system or through her friends or family. It's about being in the right place at the right time, speaking to the right person. Speaking to women is easy for me; however, it would not be modest (tznius) and so a religious girl wouldn't carry the conversation too far before ending it, if she would even participate in the first place. To answer your question, I miss a lot of parts from my past, including that girlfriend, among others and other experiences. I just have hope and faith that I'm doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

I'm the anonymous fellow who made the incendiary remark about waiting a bit on marriage. Upon further reflection, and based on your fantastic post, where you have bared your soul more eloquently and poignantly than we readers deserve, I will modify my advice. There is considerable merit in relying on a spouse to provide mutual spiritual support. I know of instances where a husband has taken on a religious commitment becuase of his wife's encouragement. I suppose Rabbi Akiva's wife from ancient times would be the ultimate such example. But you must be sure that she and you are on the same wavelength -- that is, sharing similar (but not necessarily identical) frailties, doubts, resolve and aspirations. Finding such a person will take time. Meanwhile, you may find that "ivdu es hashem b'simcha" means finding a profession that gives you satisfaction, embracing a religious lifestyle that allows for both secular and frum recreation...finding that it's not an all-or-nothing proposition. Otherwise, you might be a hot water tank with no pressure valve to let off steam. Please continue to update us on your journey.

Zoe Strickman said...

Anonymous: Thank you also for your original post.