Thursday, May 3, 2012

Religion and Freedom

Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with a parent of a child at my son's school. This lady is a lovely woman and a good mother. Jewish as I am Jewish, but our perceptions on religion differ remarkably. We discussed the fact that I wear a sheitel (wig) and she commented on it. Basically her query was along the lines of "If I am not married, why do I cover my hair?'

I actually replied,"Well, it is my choice and it feels right for me. It is an expression of who I am and where I stand in terms of my religious observance.' I did not want to make her feel guilty or somehow less than spiritual and compare my level of observance with hers and so I added 'Everyone has his or her path to G-D and I do not judge others about where they stand.'

She immediately turned it around on me and said 'Oh, yes, we all pick and choose what we do.' That answer shocked me and made me do a double take because I thought immediately,'Hey, HELL NO. It is not about picking and choosing. It is about the level of commitment you give to something. How much of yourself do you give to Hashem (G-D) and submit to doing something that sometimes goes against our basic selfish nature as a human being.' I find that covering my hair and keeping kosher, (keeping Jewish dietary laws)  being shomer shabbat and Yom tovim, shomer negiya (not touching or even shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex until after the Huppa - marriage ceremony), observing Jewish fast days and other aspects of Jewish Orthodox practice fulfils my role as an observant Jewess and it protects me from unnecessary spiritual conflicts, unnecessary unions with men who would seek to exploit me.  My lifestyle and the obvious expression of my beliefs in my mode of dress and talk and actions mean that men are aware that unless they are single Jewish Observant and Orthodox and within five years of my age either way, I am not a suitable mate for them. It cuts out the unnecessary small talk if you like. If they think I am married because I cover my hair, all the better, because unless someone is interested enough to speak to my Rav and friends about who I am and my status, then definitely, I am not interested.

Also inherent in this conversation, is the HOW. I may be lacking in areas that she is very accomplished in and people's perceptions of others differ. I remember being in a library a few years back and there was a lady there who indicated an ex husband of mine, 'has a heart of gold.' Now I bit back the comment that 'perhaps it would have been better if he had a human heart that was merciful and kind and not one of metal', but I did not. He may have changed, but he was definitely not for me. I spent two and a half years of  the most psychologically shattering time that I have ever had in my life with this person who shall remain nameless. He was psychologically abusive to me, my step children and his ex wife.
I had nightmares, crying jags and went away from religion almost completely for several years because of this man. He was a hypocrite in other words and tried to make me one. His ex wife was from a very religous family and became non religious because of his actions and treatment of her during their marriage and after it ended. He tried to make it all her responsiblity for being NOT religious but it was actually he who was the non religious person.
He disrespected my parents who were in their sixties and insisted that his children both below ten call them by their first names, something I was particularly uncomfortable with. He was rude and quite offensive to his own mother and it was a hillul Hashem because she was not religious and he was supposed to be religious. he agreed grudgingly to keep Halav Israel at home, but still ate in vegetarian restaurants that were treif and even ate fish meals there and made fun of the fact that I did not. I remember that trying to placate him I began to have coffee in the restaurants with him and it was a big step backward in my level of obervance and the beginning of the end.
It was all about control and keeping control over another person in anyway you can. If you can't control the person or they have their own ideas, you destroy them psychologically until they submit to you and then you play with them emotionally and psychologically until you break them down or they leave.
Real Jewish faith is about voluntary submission to G-D not to man or to woman. You do something because you believe that it brings you
1. closer to G-D
2. You become a better, stronger person who contributes to society
3. you refine your character in ways that are healthy and productive.

It is not about you or others taking on your beliefs. You are an individual and you are choosing or take on a lifestyle that you feel drawn to, comfortable with, that is in line with pre-existing beliefs held by you as an individual.
Being an observant Jewess has freed me to be myself and an individual. It allows me to think critically and not to follow fashion trends in speech, dress and conduct that go in and out of style anyway. I know and understand who I am and I am still discovering. Being an observant jew does not stop with a level of Kashrut or whatever. It is a continual learning process that starts with birth and ends in this world when we pass or are nifta. Then it most likely continues into the next world and beyond.
What I understood from the failure of my marriages and other relationships was that one should not be frightened to be an individual and do not submerge yourself in the mentality of another person be they religious or not religious. Drastically insecure people will rant and rave and try to bully others into their way of life and beliefs because they want someone to join with them. They are lonely frightened individuals who need to bully to feel justified in who they are or who they think they are. When you are strong, you do attract a lot of anger and spite from those who are not so strong or are weak willed. They want to pull you down to their level to make themselves more comfortable and that is the crux of it all.
Set yourself high standards in thought, word, deed whether you are religious or not and be kind to people and do not seek to destroy others because it is you who will end up being destroyed, from your soul out.
My religion gives me the freedom to be who I am and who I like being. I make choices and am beholden to G-D if I do the wrong thing and G-D only. I do not need the approval of a man or woman to be myself, because I do at all times try to be a positive and secure person who looks to the future and not the past, although I am aware of both the past and the present.
Shabbat Shalom

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