Friday, June 28, 2013

Shedding the BT Label

Last fall, I moved out of my parents’ house. I told my mother she could have some of my kosher kitchenware- the items designated “dairy," to be specific- because I no longer planned to use them. Being that my family eats milk and meat together, I knew that the dishes would not remain kosher once my mom cooked with them. Instead, I would rely on my “meat" dishes anytime I came home to visit.

When I came home for Thanksgiving, I found that my mother had cooked not only with the dairy dishes, but the meat ones as well. As a result, I no longer had a means of preparing a meal for myself.

I was frustrated. Even though I knew it had been a simple misunderstanding, somewhere in my mind I was thinking, “Life would be SO much easier if my family would just keep kosher. Furthermore, their lack of consciousness in dealing with physicality is utterly intolerable."

Okay, I’m not actually that high and mighty. I’m just trying to make a point.

My point is that we’ve all had those moments. Those who identify as Baal Teshuvas can almost certainly relate to this experience. Even for those who don’t, you’ve probably butted heads with your parents at some point concerning some difference in ideology.

It used to be that many of us were unconditionally accepting of the diverse worldviews held by our friends and family. After all, today’s world is all about banishing “intolerance." The value of assimilating the “other" into mainstream society has acquired a godlike appeal.

But suddenly, you become a BT and everything changes. You become a proponent of intolerance. Now, truth is truth, pluralism is ridiculous, and right and wrong are clearly defined. Most importantly, people who don’t believe in the truth better start believing in it!

Let me pose a question: Why do we CARE so much that other people see things like we do? Why does it matter?

You might say, “Only when everyone sees the truth will Moshiach come." If that’s your real answer, wonderful. But I don’t think that’s an honest self-appraisal. Alternatively, you could answer, “It would be so much more convenient if my parents would just keep kosher." Ok, getting closer. But really, you and I care because we want validation- emotional, intellectual, whatever. It’s hard to be the odd one out in the place we’re supposed to call “home," the place we want to consider our comfort zone. So we need reinforcement.

But why? Why can’t we just know what we know, relishing in our private access to truth without enforcing our standards on others?

I guess it’s because we don’t know what we know. I might, to some degree, understand G-d on an intellectual level. I know the entire world is actually an expression of G-d. But I don’t really know Him yet. I don’t look at my kitchen table and see G-dliness radiating from my broccoli. And for some weird reason, I think that confirmation of G-d- from someone who is just as blind as me- is going to sharpen my vision. And dissent will weaken it.

Not only do I seek external validation due to feeling out of place in my home, but because I feel out of place in my observance. Who am I to be doing mitzvos, serving the Almighty? I’m not worthy of that. Every time I visit my parents, I’m reminded that I’m just the same as them. That I’m human, just like they are. And that scares me.


Know why that’s crazy? Because I call myself “religious" and they don’t, but at the end of the day, we’re both blind.

Really, we’re all in the same boat. We ALL struggle to see G-d in a world seemingly devoid of Him. Listen up, self-proclaimed BT’s! There is no “us" and “them." The dichotomy of “frum Jew" vs. “unenlightened secular world" is an illusion.

But our blindness is not the only quality that unites us. More importantly, we are bound together as one people because of our potential for vision. Our souls contain a spark of the Almighty, and with that comes G-dly knowledge. Our inward journeys will eventually lead us to the same place, a place of utter clarity that exists independent of circumstance. We're united in our flawed humanity just as we are in our G-dly perfection. We're all swept up in a single current, flowing toward a reality in which oneness will reign.

So if we’re going to be intolerant of something, let’s turn that frustrated emotion into something constructive. Perhaps, we can focus our energies on the underlying issue rather than its symptoms: We can refuse to tolerate the distance between G-d and us.

Let’s protest the fact that since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, G-d’s presence is no longer revealed to us. That children and parents can’t respect each other. That Jewish communities live in isolation from one another, overcome by “politics" and divisive labels.

The Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because people weren’t being tolerant or kind toward one another. The Jewish people committed “bloodshed": they spoke negatively about each other to such an extent that the sages equated it with murder. They couldn’t love one another, hopelessly divided by their differences. Or rather, their perceived differences.

Three weeks from now is Tisha b’Av. We should, of course, attempt to generate loving and respectful feelings toward one another. We should mend our relationships while still holding fast to the Torah perspective.

But that’s only half the battle. My proposal is that we not only transform our intolerance toward each other into love and kindness, but even find a proper channel for our intolerance. I tend to think every human quality can be directed toward good, so why should this be an exception? G-d implanted this emotion in us for a reason. We can and should be intolerant- in the right way.

As such, let’s challenge G-d’s choice to distance Himself from us. To create humans who view reality so, so differently than one another and than He does. That HIS perspective- as conveyed through Torah- is sometimes so incomprehensible to us. Let’s refuse to be satisfied until this irreconcilable distance is bridged. We’re all trying to coax G-d’s presence into this broken world, one act of kindness at a time. If we choose, we can all be on the same side.

Finally, let’s stop lamenting over the fact that we don’t feel comfortable in our parents’ kitchens. While we’re bickering over our petty dishes, there’s a larger issue at hand: G-d can’t yet feel at home in the world He created. And we can’t feel at home with G-d.

I refuse to tolerate that.

So, Mom and Dad- Are you with me on this one?

1 comment:

  1. Love it! Thanks for adding to our understanding of the three weeks in terms of both Adam l'makom and Adam l'chavero.