Fear of Being a Phony

The other day my mom and I were talking about what personal failures we were most afraid of committing. I told her the thing that worried me the most was that I would turn out to be a fake. That at the end of my life, many people would think I was an observant Jew, a good person, a good wife and mother, intelligent, etc, etc. But that I would know that I was none of those things. Of course my mom being my mom was incredulous that I could think I was anything less than fantastic.

I think this fear of being a phony might be common among BTs. I imagine that people who are frum from birth perform mitzvot as if they were born knowing how. But for me, I always feel I should tell people, “I’m not learning to become an observant Jew, I just pretend to be one on the internet.” Every time I say a bracha or pick out kosher food at the market I feel as if I will soon find out that I have been doing some aspect of these mitzvot incorrectly. In part this is because of my own insecurity in my “status” (somewhere between secular and observant) and incomplete knowledge, and in part because I am disappointed that I have not progressed as far in my observance as I had hoped.

Of course, my mom being my mom, had a wonderful bit of wisdom to share with me. She said, “You’re only fake if your intentions are insincere. If someone assumes you are Orthodox because, for example, you don’t wear pants and you dress modestly, then that’s not your fault so long as you dress modestly for sincere reasons. The fact that you can’t yet completely kosher your kitchen doesn’t mean that you’ve misled that person, it means that you haven’t progressed to that step yet.”

Then I came across this quote from Rabbi Shalom Arush that confirmed that my mom was exactly right:

We must all know one thing: Every setback in life – even a setback that results from our own mistake – comes from above!

Therefore, one should never torture oneself. There’s no room to blame oneself or anybody else for troubles in life, and certainly not to fall into despair and depression. The important thing is desire; falling means nothing, as long as a person maintains a desire to do better. Never abandon your desires, for Hashem looks first and foremost at our desires. The best way to counter a fall or failure is to declare a new beginning and get back up on our feet as fast as possible. We desire to do better! The fall means nothing if we get back on our feet swiftly and with new resolve.

I’m not a fake Orthodox Jew. I am someone who is working towards a goal that I have not yet fully achieved. I haven’t completed all the steps I need to complete, in part because of poor decisions I have made, and in part because of things outside of my control. But I can declare a new beginning because I desire to do better.

15 comments on “Fear of Being a Phony

  1. Dearest Fern,

    Even before I got to the wonderful quote you provided by Rabbi Shalom Arush, I was thinking as I began to read your entry that you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself! Take it from someone who is an expert at being hard on herself – me. Challenging our spiritual beliefs require sometimes that we “act as if” we have already made them, because they are the most difficult changes to make, and they don’t happen overnight. As long as you are on the derech you want to be on and help yourself get back on it when you wander off, you are doing as well as any human being possibly can. Yasher Koach to you for your honesty and strength.

  2. Hi,
    If, at the end, everyone thinks you are a good person, you must have done something right! Right?
    So, stop worrying and continue to be the best and most decent Jew you can be, and WITHOUT A DOUBT, everything else will fall into place — even if you fail at a few mitzvot. Who doesn’t? And, in the process, you might even avoid an ulcer.

  3. Fern

    One must learn to judge themselves in reference to who they themselves are, and where they thenselves were, and where they themselves want to be.

    Sometimes the ultimate goal may even be a moving target but introspection should be the watchword and not “keeping up with the Jones'”

    When you go to daven I find it helps to think about why I am there and not why others are there, I think about the things that I am thankful for, and dont much care about those around me.

    Me and Hashem are in the center and the spotlight and having a glorious conversation.

    I hope this helps
    even a little


  4. Soshi–So true. In law school you even compete in moot court competitions so that you can pretend to be an attorney before even leaving school.

    Regarding the orthodox uniform…I refuse to wear long jean skirts with running shoes. :-P But tznius was something I took on almost immediately. Not because I was trying to look a certain way, but because it was a mitzvah that instantly made sense to me. I’m sure that Orthodox Jews could take one look at me and realize that I am no FFB. But I think what my mom was referring to was her Jewish friends think of my attire. As properly liberated women, they think pants are the best thing since sliced bread and the topic of discussion the other day was “How much cleavage is appropriate in the workplace.” They comment on my skirts every time they see me. “Oh Fern, Orthodoxy is so off the deep end. Have you gone to a Conservative synagogue? They’re much more normal. You can wear pants at a Conservative synagogue you know…”

  5. Bob, my problem is not with the commandments of Hashem. It is the commandments, as interpreted by humans, that cause the problem. I can read the torah and understand in a way that is not filtered by those who seek power and control.

  6. Thank you for this nice post.

    My family accuses me often of being a fake.

    I think, if you want to become someone or something, you have to fake it at the beginning, because you plainly take a different road than before. With the time, it really becomes part of who you are and what you are.

    this is true also if you learn a profession: Let’s say you learn to be a lawyer. The first time you wear your nice suit to go to work, you think you are a fake. And to some extend, you are, since it’s your first day at work. But everyone once started like this: it’s a dynamic process.

    The same goes for being a mother: when you come home with your newborn baby, you are a mother, technically speaking, but you are not really yet. But after caring for one (or more) being(s) during several years, something in you will have changed and you will be a “real mother”.

    As far as “lachzoer bitshuva” is concernde: Yeshayahu Leibowith advised a couple who wanted to go for T’shuva not to change their clothing style or externa appearance. he said: t’shuva is something very personal, it happens within you. The first step should not be to conform to the “orthodox uniform”.

  7. Thanks for the words of encouragement DY! I know in my head that you’re right, but sometimes it’s hard to get my heart to listen.

  8. fern, you must know that we are all in the same boat in this regard – FFB, BT or something as yet without an acronym…we are all works in progress. none of us ever, ever acheives perfection. as i’ve heard in the name of great people – it’s the direction you are headed more than anything else that is a measure of who you are – that and your intent. when i do something in an incomplete or misguided way, or something that i just didn’t manage to win over my yetzer hara about – it doesn’t mean i’m a fake. it means i’m human. and always will be…keep on chuggin’!

  9. Mother knows best, huh?

    I’ll never admit it. Oh wait. I just did. ;-)

    It is your intent rather than the deed that should be your guide.

    I’m not sure I agree with this sentiment, although it sounds nice on its face. I think most of the time, it’s more important to do the right thing, even for the wrong reason. If you keep on doing the right thing, eventually the right motivation will follow. At least, that has been my experience, with mitzvot observance and life in general.

  10. I was FFB but backed away when I came to realize that full observance was akin to obsessive-compulsive behavior. I’m at peace with my level of observance and I hope you find the same peace as you become more observant. It is your intent rather than the deed that should be your guide.

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