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Isn't it pretty?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Narrow Pathways

A day I expected to be fairly uneventful and possibly boring ended up being full. I have a friend who lives about an hour away that I hadn't seen in over a year. She has a two-month-old I hadn't yet met, so I thought it was about time. I called her in the morning to see if she would mind a visit. She didn't mind, so I headed on over.

It was really nice seeing her. It had been quite a while. Her kids (three of them now!) have grown up so much since the last time I saw them. As we were talking, I realized I've known her for eight years, much longer than most of my friends. We've both changed tremendously in that time. I kinda wonder what she thinks about all the changing I've done, from city to city. In eight years, I've watched her go from just out of seminary to having three kids. She's watched me move up the coast.

She was telling me about her brother-in-law, who is learning in one of the "top" yeshivas in Israel. He's not very happy about it. The learning isn't really working for him; he doesn't find it to be so stimulating. He says he can't see the forest for the trees. He also has some major philosophical issues, but can't get answers to his questions. His yeshiva isn't exactly the kind of place where you bring up questions about general faith - they're learning gemara. He was sent to speak to a prominent rabbi who does deal with those kind of questions, but it didn't help very much.

He realizes that he isn't really cut out for full-time learning, and doesn't want to be there. He is taking some college courses to attempt to branch out a bit. But his parents don't like it, and want him to continue learning in yeshiva for a few more years at least. He's tried several different yeshivot, but none of them have been a good fit. He knows he would probably be better off leaving learning at this point, but again, his parents don't want him to, so he's kind of stuck in a difficult place.

YM commented on my last post saying:

One of the things that is hard for you I am sure is that in school, and also the way you and I were brought up, is that you analyze ideas from the outside. There is you over here, and over there is the idea or concept that you are analyzing, and you have every right to agree or disagree with that concept or idea. In Judaism, it doesn't work like that at all. You are the Torah; the Torah is you. There is no having an "opinion" about it, it is emes (truth) in the deepest and truest sense. Your job and mine, is simply to identify Torah and then try to understand it, and regardless (of whether we are successful), to live by it as much as we are able. And if we make mistakes or slip on one day, to get up the next day and start again.

I find this difficult. For several reasons. One of them is probably because, as YM pointed out, I wasn't raised to accept something as truth if I don't understand it. I was raised to disagree with things at will. But another reason is that I see so many paths to Torah, so many different permutations in practice, that I find it very difficult to figure out how they can all be the truth in the deepest sense. Especially because I do feel like each person needs to find their own path within Torah, I think it makes it even harder to accept it at face value. Though I do, as YM suggests, "live by it as much as [I am] able." It's really the only thing I can do.

I think this must be part of why my friend's brother-in-law is having such a hard time. He's being given one path, and it's one that he can't walk so well, that he finds himself slipping from. But despite his attempts to walk a different one, even within Torah, he's not being given the opportunity and he is being made to feel like, at least at this point in his life, it isn't acceptable. He's struggling to find a way to accept Torah as truth and to live it, but maybe he isn't being shown the whole picture of Torah.

I feel for my friend's brother-in-law, and his struggles to find his place, and please his parents. I don't think that he wants to be outside Torah, he just wants to take a slightly different path than what he's being placed upon right now. And in that push for a path he doesn't want to walk, his connection to Torah is being damaged.

And maybe that's the key to the problem. The Torah is supposed to encompass the world, and everything in it, but it's rare that I see people feeling that different paths than the one they have chosen are acceptable. The banning of continuing education, the Internet, denim, and Miami seems silly if you suppose that Torah offers and answers everything the world has to offer, if only we live by it as best as we can. These restrictions upon restrictions that seem only to make life harder and more difficult, to pushing past the breaking point for many seems like it misses the point of Torah, and limits the Torah from encompassing everything it can. And in making what is acceptable within Torah narrower, people are pushed off the road altogether.

I wish we could get a glimpse sometimes of the big picture, because I feel like these details would fall to the wayside and become swallowed up by what's important. And what's important is what I feel like is being missed a lot. Because honestly, I feel like I've largely lost sight of it in my frustration and struggles. I can't articulate any more exactly what the point is, besides striving to serve G-d, doing the best I can each day. But I can't necessarily tell you what that means.

I do ask G-d for guidance on a daily basis. I wish His voice was louder and clearer, because sometimes it's hard to hear and sometimes I just don't listen, nor probably want to. But I think His voice is probably more accepting than the audible ones we hear with our ears.


  • Great, great post.

    I went through a similar situation to your friend's brother-in-law a few years ago - but the reaction of the people I knew was very different. My parents, siblings, rebbeim, and [most vocally] my Charedi cousins told me that the path I was on was not good for me. I remember distinctly how they put it: "You were much happier last year than you are now. You need to go back there - if you're not happy, this is not for you."

    By Blogger Ezzie, at 2/19/07, 9:38 AM  

  • good post. people do need to look at the bigger picture, that there are solutions and places that may not necessarily be what would normally be expected but can still be within the Torah realm. it's hard when parents pressure kids in a certain direction, makes things hard for everyone involved. you can't fit a square peg in a round hole, it just doesn't work.

    (btw what on earth - banning Miami?!)

    By Blogger ~ Sarah ~, at 2/19/07, 6:15 PM  

  • hey, i live in miami. what do i do now?

    i heard once that halacha is a wide place, and i think that's the emes.

    i know what you mean about chumras she'b'chumras, i've been contemplating about blogging about that myself.

    all these people saying NO to everything are just expressing their opinion. everyone needs to have a rav and a mashpia that can help them find the right path. (i am talking to myself here.)

    it is ok and normal for a jew to question, and it's ok to not want to sit and learn all day long. chassidus helps a lot.

    By Blogger Maven, at 2/20/07, 7:29 PM  

  • What you've said is so true. I think frum youth would be in a much better place if the community would realize and accept that Torah has a place for every individual, and there is no one script you have to follow. It's not an either/or proposition-- not everyone is meant to learn all day, but the Torah and mitzvot are their legacy just as much as it is for the roshei yeshiva.

    By Blogger Bas Melech, at 2/20/07, 11:01 PM  

  • Ezzie -
    I think you were very lucky to have people who had your best interests at heart, rather than an agenda that they wanted to push, regardless of what was best for you.

    Sarah -
    Miami is a very dangerous place.

    Maven -
    You must move immediately ;)
    I think the problem is when halacha is not presented as a "wide place" and legitimate choices and decisions are blocked.

    Bas Melech -
    When people are encouraged to do what is best for them individually, I think we will be in a much better place.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 2/21/07, 12:36 PM  

  • Shoh, one problem is that you don't look at things the way a charedi would. To the charedim, life in this world is for passing ones tests, perfecting ones character traits, performing mitzvoths, and clinging to Hashem. Anything which interferes with these goals is bad and should be avoided. Concepts like pluralism, equal rights, and other American concepts you hold dear are not considered valuable by charedim. It is not fair to critisize charedim for being charedim.

    By Blogger YM, at 2/22/07, 12:54 PM  

  • Now, from my understanding, the gedolim in Israel did not ban women from pursuing continuing education; they banned this education from taking place in the Beis Yackov institutions. You know that differentiating secular from holy is an important value in Judaism. The gedolim felt that while the basic teacher training falls under holy, the continuing education falls under secular and doesn't belong in a Beis Yackov.

    Now, if the goal of life is to earn a good place in the world to come, then the internet is barrier for many people to this. It wastes time, it provides exposure to non-torah ideas, and it facilitates sinful behavior. Obviously not for everyone, but the gedolim obviously feel that any benefit offered by the internet is outweighed by these risks.

    I have no comments to make about denim and Miami; I haven't read anything about these issues.

    One thing I have learned over the years I have been trying to be observant is that really, I don't understand torah in any depth. I might know more than 99% of American Jews, but compared to my teachers, I really don't know anything. Similarly, my teachers understanding of Torah is much less than a Rav Eliashev or a Rav Schteinerman. Therefore, I had to make a decision to trust those who know the Torah, and who have spent their lives successfully perfecting their middos (character traits), to make the right decisions on these public policy questions. In fact, the Torah explicitly requires us to follow the sages of "your generation". I personally may not be succesful at following their rulings; after discusion with my own Rabbis, it may be that their rulings don't necessarily apply to my situations. But it is important to hold the sages in high esteem and to be humble about my own knowledge relative to theirs, even if in my own mind I disagree.

    Hashem should bless you to find a home in Torah and to come to terms with your own questions.

    By Blogger YM, at 2/22/07, 1:08 PM  

  • Shosh, I'm playing Devil's Advocate here (if you will), could you be treife for a day and see how that works out? Although that's how I live with life and I'm still burdened and none the wiser. Ah, forget it.

    By Blogger fwengebola, at 2/22/07, 6:58 PM  

  • YM -
    For your first comment, I agree that I don't look at things like someone who is charedi and I do concede that it's difficult to criticize a group based on a completely different worldview. However, the family this boy comes from isn't exceptionally charedi, this boy isn't wanting to do anything even charedim would consider wrong and I don't believe that his quest even is in contrast to clinging to Hashem, it just is wanting to be outside the yeshiva at this point in his life. But maybe that's your point.

    As for your second comment, I understand what you are saying and there are many people whose knowledge I respect very much and I certainly admit that I know virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things. I wouldn't dare insinuate that I know more than any of these great rabbis. But, I also choose to make my own decisions when it comes to leading my life, and if that falls outside of the charedi mindset, that's fine with me, because I'm not charedi. It could probably be argued that I should keep my mouth shut about groups that I don't choose to affiliate myself with, and they would probably have a point. But I think that they are making it extremely difficult for anyone to serve Hashem with simcha and to find that life enjoyable. I do believe that the leaders of the charedi communities should be going out of their way to open doors rather than close them, because this is the 21st century and whether they like it or not, they are a part of this world.

    Thank your for your bracha. Amen.

    Fweng -
    Not quite sure I completely follow you, but if you are saying that I should try out freeing myself from the many restrictions that I do succumb to by being frum, then you do have a point. I guess it's a matter of saturation point and maybe it is silly for me to complain about extra restrictions I don't accept when I do accept so many for myself. But it seems like you feel we're all burdened regardless, so you just can't win.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 2/23/07, 3:06 PM  

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