This past week I attended an “Ask the Rabbi” lecture where two Orthodox Rabbis and one Orthodox Rebbetzin sat on a panel ready to answer questions on Jewish life, ritual, and tradition. There were many interesting questions thrown at them like “What is your take on using marijuana, what’s your feeling about men and women texting each other, and what is your opinion on the Jewish education crisis?”
Obviously these were all important questions that deserved good answers, and for the most part, the panel answered them pretty well. One anonymous question that was posed left me frustrated and dissatisfied upon hearing their answers. The question was, and I quote:
“I am married to a religious and observant man and we are raising our children with Jewish observance as well, but deep inside I am feeling despondent and disconnected and feel as though I don’t believe in any of it anymore. What do you have to say about what I should do to rectify my frustrations with religion?”
Across the panel, the patent answer that was given to this tortured soul was “You should learn more.” Although I agreed with this answer, my frustration lied in the fact that this poor soul was never actually celebrated for asking her question. She was also asking an impassioned question, and deserved an equally sensitive answer instead of rhetoric. Here’s what I would have said (had they asked me to be on the panel, but they didn’t.):
Hello. My name is Chava and I am a recovering Apathetic. (Then I would have waited for everyone to respond with “Hi Chava, it works if you work it”….I like cheesy AA sayings- it helps sets the mood.)
First let me applaud you for asking your question. For by the mere fact that you were in tune with your soul needing more, and by your ability to articulate your lack of inspiration, you indeed inspired me to re-ask this question to myself again. I have faced this shameful feeling in the past and, I imagine, you may have inspired many others, with the same sentiment, who may have been afraid to ask this question but were scared of judgment or criticism. For how do we possibly learn, evolve, or tackle difficult issues if we hide from them? On the contrary, you were brave enough to face this deep seeded feeling of apathy and asked for an emotional response. You deserve an emotional answer.
There are many reasons a person feels despondent in life. Sometimes it is out of lack of practice, sometimes it is out of pain, sometimes it is out of boredom. It is human. It is normal. My despondency was a result of deep pain rooted in betrayal. I had witnessed an event that caused me to truly face my lack of faith in people, which in turn hurt my faith in G-d. Leaders let me down, and children got hurt as a result of men and women who were in leadership positions and who were unable to stand up for right versus wrong. This event shook my faith to its core. I had put so much faith into people instead of into the principles that I was living by, that I became a broken hearted tortured soul yearning for love and light, understanding, and rectification. While on my search for closure, I ended up at a holy site in New York. The Lubavitcher Rebbe is buried in a cemetery in Queens and many from far and wide go to his place of burial to pray and to lament and to seek spiritual atonement and enlightenment. It is a well known fact that Jews all over the world from the beginning of time have visited the grave sites of their past righteous teachers and leaders to pray and meditate, and to ask the righteous to invoke on their behalf.
It was a cold January day. The clouds hovered over my head and the chill in the air was way below zero. As is customary, I took off my leather shoes out of respect and proceeded into the cemetery barefooted with only a thin nylon sock separating my delicate toes from the stone frozen ground. I stood for a long time in meditation, begging G-d to allow the Rebbe to intervene on my behalf and on behalf of the many children who needed healing. I had cried for my own broken heart who witnessed senseless manipulation and irreversible crimes, which stole many children’s innocence away inside the doors of an institution that promised to protect and adhere to high moral Torah standards. I cried for the many leaders who failed at a time they should have been strong with resolve over how to protect children from sexual abuse. I cried and I cried. My cold breath suspended in mid-air as every last word I uttered froze through the chilled wind. And then I looked up to the heavens and I saw the sky, and you know what- it was still grey. Nothing had really changed. My despondency became more real and my bitterness and anger more fresh. Religion had let me down, and I was frustrated that the only person who had the answers was now in a grave unable to truly give me any guidance. How could I possibly adhere to a faith that had disappointed me so?
I dragged my cold stiff body back into the Synagogue attached to the cemetery. Tears covered my skin and my eyes bled the truth that my heart was feeling. Nothing, no one, could possibly change my verdict. I was as apathetic as I could have possibly become. There was a television playing in the background where the Lubavitcher Rebbe was lecturing past lectures that had been taped during his years as leader. Typically these lectures played all day never repeating itself more than once. Through my crying I noticed the TV but was not paying attention to the words. For when you are feeling indifferent, there is nothing that can really change that feeling except for more indifference. It is a slippery slope, and sometimes G-d has to tap you on the shoulder or shake you in order to recreate your focus to set up a personal recharge. Sometimes that shoulder tap ends up being the TV breaking down. For a few moments, there was an interruption in the program, the screen scratched a fuzzy picture and then seemed to replay the exact same lecture. It was so noticeable, most of the folks in the Synagogue stopped what they were doing and paid attention only to go back to their private prayers. For some reason, this pause had me pause in my own wallowing of emotion and without realizing, I started to pay attention to what the Rebbe was reiterating now for the second time. I will forever remember these words, as they are etched in my mind every time I feel far away from my purpose or resolve: (I am paraphrasing of course)
It is said that the Jews left Egypt in the “Middle of the night”, otherwise known as “Midnight”. But the Jews were deserving of this exit from Egypt. What could possibly have been G-d’s purpose for having them sneak out of Egypt in the middle of the night? Surely it was not to hide this miracle or sneak them out of Egypt out of shame because the Jews were well deserving of leaving Egypt and many knew of their unjustified slavery. The only thing one can learn from the moment the Jews left Egypt, is that the darkest hour of the day is midnight. That was the exact moment the Jews left their inexcusable slavery. Sometimes when life is very difficult, when a person is in a deep slavery, a heart breaking situation, the darkest hour, it can seem as though there is no light at all. But midnight has a startling lesson, for every single minute after midnight the earth rotates towards the sun therefore making each minute and hour after midnight a little bit brighter. When the Jews left Egypt, they left at the darkest moment of their lives, but every minute and hour after became a little bit lighter, a little bit brighter. For a person attached to his Higher Power is never stuck. He only has to look to midnight to know the light is but a few hours away, no matter how broken hearted he/she is.
It was at that moment I knew my heart would mend. I also knew it would be up to me to pull myself out of my pain and practice getting my soul fed through love and light, and yes, learning also helped. The question shouldn’t really be, what should you do to rectify your frustrations with religion, but how do you rectify your frustrations with your soul? Your soul is not going away. Whether you leave your path or stay on it, your soul will continue to be tortured if it is not fed. For every person’s soul is just an extension of a Higher Power pushing itself into this earth. We all have this Higher Power inside of our selves, but it is up to us to let it out and shine. And if it feels dormant, the only way to unleash it is by acknowledging it’s sleep, taking ownership for its rest and re-inspiring it so our inner selves soar. Remember midnight is the darkest hour, after that, eventually the sun comes up- but if you do not get dressed, open the shade and make room for the light, it will remain trapped in bitterness, despair, and apathy. So keep asking questions, keep seeking and searching, and eventually your soul will lead you instead of your despair.
Thanks for letting me share. And yes, it works if you work it…..(See- Cheesy, I know, but it helps.)