By Sara Taub
The question of this post is directed at brave and inquiring minds which let go of attachments to material and professional accomplishments and replace them with goals more eternal. It is among people such as these that I think this question would most likely arise. It is not a particularly convenient question, as it requires courage and honesty to ask. It is probably an unpopular question, because the potential outcome could involve some disharmony and re-adjustment, if only in your internal space. But I think it is an important question to ask and I am curious to know whether any of you ask it of yourselves.
First let me tell you what the question is not. The question is not about mistaken life choices or doubt that they reflect the ultimate truth; the question is not a crisis in belief or a desire to compromise Torah true standards of personal conduct and behavior; the question does not reflect an agenda that would promote self-expression at any cost; and the question is not about the society, with its takanon sanctioned by gedolai hador, in which we have chosen to live.
The question is about fine tuning and it is this:
Does there ever come a time when you have stretched so far outside your comfort zone and self-definition that maintaining your spiritual status-quo or even a slight regression would be an act of avodas Hashem?
Is it fair to say, “I can do no more right now” even when that means that your husband or children will be affected, maybe even negatively? Could you risk shalom bayis for holding your ground and refusing to accommodate a spiritual request?
Is it ever okay to let the neighbors think what they will and to dodge the masses for a while?
Do I render myself unrecognizable to the one that knows me best, namely, me, to accommodate standards generated in a world from which I do not originate, or any world for that matter?
I’ll give you an example of what I mean: A few days ago I met a friend of mine at the Seminar we are both trying to get our girls into. She came dressed in the required costume, wearing a wig she has not put on since her last appearance at the Bais Yaakov. This friend, mind you, is among the holiest rollers I know, with a clarity and devotion that I can only aspire to. Nervous, nauseous, a little resentful, and completely out of her element, the first thing she said to me was exactly what I have been thinking for some time now. “I am constantly being asked to stretch and accommodate way beyond what I am capable of or comfortable with.” And then walked in the menahelet…shalom! Whatever…
And when I challenged her with the possibility that perhaps she should do what it takes to maintain her own equilibrium she said, “No, no matter what, I have to keep trying, even if I die trying.” Further into the conversation she alluded to the fact that for her, the suffering was meaningful because it served as some form of atonement for past misdeeds; that Moshiach was on his way and people today are the bottom of the barrel so it was wise to make torment your faithful companion, as in today’s world, it is in everyone’s repertoire in one form or another.
But it pained me to see that she was, in fact, dying in small ways as each accommodation was sure to be followed by greater, more difficult ones. And as I watched her put on a grin-and-bear-it façade, I had to wonder, does service of G-d require this? Was it, in fact, Torah true?
There are two camps, I presume, that form around this question. One would have you consider the “I” null and void. “I” am a self-fashioned robot, who devotedly follows the path laid out before me by those wiser and more accomplished than me. The other would shout in protest and demand an accounting for the unique and inimitable character that Hashem placed in each one of us. Where are my fingerprints that no other human being can duplicate?
It is difficult to know when to reach in the pocket that carries the note “I am nothing but dust,” and when to reach in the other that hides the message “the world was created for me.” But the two are equally holy, and crumbling up the paper that would require I lay my uniqueness on the altar of accommodation without at least launching an inquiry is, in my humble opinion, cowardice. And my experience has taught me that going into self-imposed exile leaves me alone with a self that makes joy a stranger and wilts the flowers of Simchas HaChayim, Ahavas Hashem, and achdus with Am Yisroel planted in the vineyards I have so carefully and consciously cultivated.
“I did it my way” is not a song that is found on Jewish lips. No one would advocate letting the individual mandate the Godly. But is there room in the spaces of obligation and ritual in the foreign world in which we find ourselves big enough for me? Presented with a demand that would necessitate a metamorphosis of size-able proportions do I even consider what my personal cost would be? What do I weigh that up against and how do I know which is the priority?
Much to my delight and gratitude, my husband came through with an answer to this dilemma that I found both wise and satisfying. He believes that within the robot there is a mechanism for self-regulation; that there is a default mode triggered by crises of this kind which would have you honor the voice that shouts discontent and seek a competent audience in which to vocalize and resolve the tension that it generates (for which he offers his services, of course.) The Torah and our leaders do not shy away from the conflicted – out of the box in which we live, they are divinely endowed with a bird’s eye view that can embrace and set free the complicated and multifaceted creation that is called a human being.
And further, my husband regards it as a duty incumbent on each and every one of us. Belief and service should not mandate that we die a thousand deaths in its name unless we are counseled that that is what we must do. There is room, he believes, for an individual to live within the robot. The wise seek out wise counsel to set the mark and draw the parameters around which he can walk freely, at his own pace and in his own stride.
How would you answer the question?