Monday, September 10, 2007

Thoughts on Judaism: Anxious & Need

This past Friday, I had a very nice conversation with a friend (A) in which we discussed a couple of aspects of Judaism that have bothered us. We were noting how many people term what they're looking for in a spouse as someone who is 'looking to grow', and how that can mean different things to different people; in truth, everyone wants to 'grow', the question is simply what they mean by growth.

In the course of conversation, I referenced a conversation I'd had with another friend (B) recently at a wedding, which also touched on this issue of growth. He'd noted that he has a hard time explaining to other people 'what he wants', but I'd understand, having grown up [all too] similar: He wants a *normal* frum Jewish girl. The basic gist was that we know what we need to do, what we're supposed to do, etc.; it's really not all that complicated. It tied in with previous conversations I've had with many people including him about growth and the like - people are who they are, and don't see a special need to be constantly 'growing' the way many people term it. Growth doesn't (necessarily) require change - but when one person says they want someone who is looking to grow, and the other is pretty content overall with how they are now, they each think the other has a very different mindset. Another friend (C) who recently got his semicha and is planning on being a rav said something similar: "I am who I am. I need a normal Jewish girl, not some hashkafa-spouting rebbetzin. If when I ask a girl how things are and hear 'Boruch Hashem yom yom' one more time, I'm going to go nuts."

Perhaps I'm being charitable, but as I said to A on Friday, I believe B meant/would agree with the following: There is a marked difference between a person who feels a need to constantly find something new [e.g. a chumra, though not limited to that], and a person who stumbles upon something and decides that this is something they need. A put it well:
i would agree (mostly) - especially w/ the last part -if there is something extra that will particularly help you, then i think it is beneficial to take it on - as long as you understand why you're doing it and how it helps you.
I think that this is something just about everyone agrees with. The difference becomes those people and the rest, whom I think A termed perfectly: Anxious. As in,
"I don't think it's good for someone to be very anxious about their Judaism. You should be happy with yourself, but also looking to improve if you learn that you're doing something wrong or could be doing something better." [Ez: depending on the definition of 'could be better'; A: Agreed]
The problem often is that people feel anxious that they aren't 'doing enough', so they try to do more - and while some of it is nice, much of it is unnecessary. It's not normative Judaism. When someone like B or C says they're looking for someone normal, I think they're nailing this problem on the head. Whatever happened to just being normal? To working on yourself without feeling anxious that you have to do something 'more'?

Particularly in light of the upcoming Yomim Na'ora'im, I think it's important to remember that there are different aspects to a cheshbon hanefesh; concentrating on what one can do better, and concentrating on what more he or she can do. While for some the latter may apply, the former seems more proper and more in line with what we should be doing. We should not feel a special need to search out ways in which we can 'change'; we should not have this anxiety over our Judaism. We should be honest with ourselves about who we are and what we do, and fix that which we feel needs fixing.

Shana Tova U'mesuka - may this be a year of sweetness, happiness, joy... and normalcy.

Thanks to B and C, who put a number of the thoughts involved in this post in my mind; more importantly, thank you very much to A for all the comments and quotes that led to it being written, and of course for reminding me to actually write it. :)
Glossary
semicha - ordination as a Rabbi
rav - Rabbi, generally of a synagogue
hashkafa - [loosely] ideals/philosophy
Rebbetzin - Rabbi's wife
Baruch Hashem yom yom - Bless/Thank God day by day/every day
Yomim Na'ora'im - High Holidays, including Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur
Cheshbon Hanefesh - self-reckoning or self-evaluation (of the soul)
Shana Tova U'mesuka - Have a happy, sweet new year

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