Hemmed In

We train ourselves to respond to limitations on our actions — especially those of us who had once been accustomed to not having such limitations — by intoning that these limitations are what help us grow. This sense of loss over participating in something, eating something or being somewhere you might otherwise been if not for that seminar, that bit of challah, or whatever it was that got you here is, we say, the very fertilizer of spiritual growth.

I’m fine with that. It works for me. I’ve said it many times, written about it many times here, and I believe it.

Does that mean I have to like it?

I don’t think so. Even if I know it’s “good for me,” it’s okay to admit that I feel the loss. Not just okay because, yes, it is the realization of that pain that makes the teshuvah happen, if you must. But also it’s okay to admit, hey, I feel badly about this. I feel left out. I used to like doing that. I always wanted to do that.

Denying this feeling, or forcing it into some construct that fits one’s “revised” worldview without acknowledging what it really is, is a bad idea.

Now, there are parts of my inner workings that have completely transformed over a quarter century of mitzvah observance. In certain areas, my preferences, sensibilities and desires have actually changed. You would hope so, wouldn’t you?

But some things you never stop missing. I am not referring to sensual experiences, but things I have written about in the past here: dining out, college reunions, singing in a choir. Have I beaten the corpse of this horse enough already?

Maybe, but I am trying to focus here just on this point: I decided, and not so long ago, not to feel guilty about missing these experiences. And not to feel guilty for not exulting in the pain of missing them either. Well, okay, I probably should feel guilty for the occasional bout of self-righteousness over the whole thing, but that’s a post for another day. (Mussar [ethical considerations] complicates everything.)

I am who I am. I don’t mean that in the excuse sense of the cliche, which some of us employ to avoid doing something we know we ought to do to improve ourselves. Rather, I mean that whatever I am today, for better or for worse, is the sum total of 48 years (who’s counting?) of being me, in a number of modes.

At this point, I don’t see any benefit in trying to fool myself about what I feel and think, or to regret not having the appropriate “growth” response to feelings of loss and pain. Denying a voice to my interior life had been a source of stress and conflict, which did not make the challenge of doing the right thing despite what I feel easier or healthier. It’s there, it’s me, and I’m still going to do the right thing. That’s just the way things go when you make choices that have meaning. This isn’t necessarily a BT thing.

It’s an adulthood thing.

10 comments on “Hemmed In

  1. Ben David, I have written at more length here about my experiences with these occasions, and came to different conclusions than you might about how my religious commit would affect my choice about what to participate in, what not to, and why.

    Generally speaking, though, and so you don’t have to knock yourself out to divine my obviously obscure meaning, I did not mean “dining out,” I meant “dining out anywhere you want to” or anywhere you may have someday wanted to.

    As to reunions, I concluded in my article on that topic that while there are ways to attend a college reunion taking place essentially over Shabbos, I could not fathom how someone with the religious standards in my family and community could do so and doubted whether he should anyway.

    And of course I can no longer sing in a coed choir or, I can tell you after having done considerable footwork, any choral group of “professional amateur” quality (such as I became used to in my time as a participant in this activity) due to factors such as when and where they practice or perform.

    In any event I hoped to convey that these were examples and that choice of what examples to use was meant to be “family friendly.” I was not going to trot out a laundry list of how I wish I could eat that food or have this sensual experience that is now forbidden.

  2. Are you serious?
    Your list consists of:

    dining out, college reunions, singing in a choir.
    – – – – – – – – – –
    All of which are “indulged” in by religious Jews, with no lasting spiritual or physical harm.

    Great kosher restaurants may not be available to someone living in a small community outside Israel.

    And other posters have pointed out the explosion of music and art in our community (lots of it fueled by BTs).

    But none of these things are black and white, either-or choices.

    If this is all you can come up with… I wouldn’t knock myself out if I were you.

  3. Mordechai, I think you are echoing my point — this is a process that is part of growing up. Sometimes we mistake it for something else. And sometimes it is something else.

    Judy, your perspective is great!

  4. This is no different than all the other adult decisions we make in life on a cost-benefit basis in the non frum world too.

    We ‘suffer’ thru years of higher education, to enable to have better professions in the end.

    We restrain/pass on the benefits of certain parties, illegal substances, etc with an eye to the long term gain vs the short term loss.

    So too, although we lose certain benefits when choosing a frum life (treif restaurants, shabbos activities, etc), the price is worth the product.

    Just as we don’t look back and regret the price paid for our university education (because it was worth it) similarily we look at our choice of Hashem and Torah.

    (and this is ignoring the olam habah benefits of torah observance)

  5. I am also very happy about the fact that options for frum women have expanded in a manner that is completely al pi halachah. For instance, there are now several Orthodox Jewish female repertory companies that present theatrical productions just for women and girls. The quality level of these productions is said to be nearly equivalent to Broadway, and better than many off-Broadway shows. In addition, producer Robin Garbose has led the way in making films that are Glatt Kosher for viewing by frum women and girls.

    Years ago, Baalos-Teshuva possessing musical or acting talent might have had tremendous inner angst about giving up something which was so much a part of themselves. However, with the plethora of opportunities today to utilize such talent in an acceptable manner, the Orthodox Jewish woman need not feel hemmed in by the restrictions on Kol Ishah.

    In addition, going beyond musical and singing talent, there is in general an expansion of opportunities for the Orthodox Jewish woman to use her brainpower for more than homemaking, if she so chooses. This would correspond to the similar expansion of opportunities for women in the wider world. Many professions have opened up to Orthodox Jewish women that might have been considered impossible forty years ago. Frum women today are not limited in their career choices to teaching or secretarial work. A Baalas-Teshuvah nowadays is no longer hemmed in by lowered expectations or diminished dreams.

  6. Rather than being hemmed in, I feel expanded!

    I look at it from the opposite perspective. I don’t dwell on what I can no longer do because I have become observant. Instead, I think of how there is so much more I have gotten to do because I have become frum.

    For example, I sincerely appreciate the lovely way that many communities will gladly open up homes to frum visitors who need places to stay on Shabbos and Yom Tov. I can’t imagine being able to safely stay with strangers in the wider world (other than in a registered bed and breakfast).

    I also really enjoy the emphasis on family get-togethers and seeing the grandchildren grow up. If I were not frum, my grown kids would come only for Thanksgiving or July 4th – maybe. Maybe I would not have any grandchildren at all. But being frum means a procession of family on Yom Tov and other celebrations throughout the year. Who else makes a big deal over a three-year-old’s first haircut?

  7. Does this post have any connection at all with the one below it (Open Minded Torah), or is it totally separate?

  8. While we miss things we know we can’t/shouldn’t do anymore, we can take some comfort in our ability to restrain ourselves for a higher purpose, in the face of a general society that abhors restraint in general.

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