So I was just doing some light reading…
I can gaze at a beautiful sunset, and try to describe it to you. But until
you open your eyes and see it for yourself, my words are in vain. You must
see it to appreciate it.
I can describe the most delicious fruit. But you must taste it to
The same is true of Judaism. The Bible tells us (Ps. 34:9), “Taste and
see, that G-d is good, happy is the man who embraces Him.”
You must actually live Torah Judaism to appreciate its beauty and
wisdom. Only when you immerse yourself in it totally will you discover its
full spiritual dimension. [p. 12]
I feel this way. It’s a dangerous thing to say, and I myself am a great reminder of this—every time this thought flounces through my mind, I just take a look around my room and see that the very same argument could be used to condemn everything I ever loved.
I think I told a friend once…it seems like it negates the purpose when you “choose” to do a mitzvah—then every time you do it, you’ll be thinking “I’m so perceptive, I’m so spiritual, I picked this mitzvah!” It’s all about you. The whole point of mitzvot (i.e. chukkim pretty much) is that you’re not always right, you know? Moreover, you don’t know whether this or that mitzvah will be “good for you” unless you do it long-term and unless, in many cases, you take the whole package.
Here’s the thing, though. That “whole package” talk sounds great until you start to see how people use that rhetoric in the real world. Anyone could easily use the “whole package” talk to assert that I, your humble author, am not following “Torah Judaism” and therefore no matter what I think I’m feeling, I really can’t appreciate its “beauty and wisdom”, considering the circumstances. After all, “Torah Judaism” stipulates that women are spiritually dragged down by those cumbersome time-based mitzvot, for example. Truly, a woman’s best interests are served by attaching herself to more appropriate mitzvot, such as candle-lighting. (Other things that aren’t Torah Judaism include having gay friends, Simchat Bat, and bringing the Torah to the women’s section.)
Neither is my rabbi following “Torah Judaism”, because even though he walks to shul even in the snow even though “technically” he doesn’t have to—nonetheless, he is still Conservative and therefore has a corrupted view of Torah.
I’m into Torah Judaism. I’m not into the baggage. So let me tell you a little story now that we have that all straightened out.
I was watching this show on National Geographic about different cultures and their mind-altering drugs, and the last bit of the show focused on these two Americans who were travelling down to South America to try some ayahuasca. They were being interviewed, and the guy said something like “I hope it’s not just another drug, I want a spiritual experience!” So they both went down there on a boat far away into the wilderness, where no one would even find them if they died. They stayed and watched as the natives mixed in the ayahuasca bark with some DMT, banging on the bark with this hammer to “let the spirits out”. This other native girl had come with them; she was there because she was having migraines and problems with her husband, and her family was making her go “get help for it”. So, it got dark, and they all took their little cups of ayahuasca and settled in.
Throwing up is a big part of the ayahuasca experience. It’s supposed to be the “beginning of the journey”—you’re getting all the “bad spirits out” so you can totally concentrate on the visions you’re about to have; the visions that will solve your problems. But you have to really believe in it, you know, you can’t just be like “GIVE ME THE STUFF!” and expect to have a good experience (DMT is pretty extreme; don’t know if you know that). So naturally the tourists were having a terrible time; the girl was just waiting for it to be over rather peacefully, but the guy was having a worse time—he was collapsed on the floor, throwing up for eight hours until he got diarrhea and they had to drag him out of the tent. The native girl, on the other hand, was interviewed again in the morning, and said she felt much better; her migraines were gone and the ayahuasca really worked.
Can you see where I’m going here?
You don’t have to be in South America to get DMT, and obviously if you just pound it down, it is going to be “just another drug”, not a spiritual experience. The reason it was a spiritual experience for the native girl and not the tourists was because she knew what to expect; she knew what she was supposed to be getting from it; it all went together—you can’t have the ayahuasca without the culture and still expect the culture to somehow seep through the ayahuasca like magic despite that fact. You can’t just be like “GIVE ME THE STUFF!”
This is the problem I have with Reform and Reconstructionism (and maybe left-leaning Conservatism; haven’t really experienced that yet). The mitzvot aren’t really meant to be taken apart. “A mitzvah leads to another mitzvah, and an averah leads to another averah.” They’re not meant to be ripped apart into “moral” and “other”; the “other” being discardable if we think we’ve evolved beyond them…even if it says “do this for all generations”, who cares?
But I can’t accept all the chumras** and, worse, minhagim, of Orthodoxy, either; at least not right-wing Orthodoxy. “Women HAVE to stay at home and have tons of children (preferably boys); it’s good for them!” Who says? Rambam, who also said that Dinah was asking for it? (Reading that feminist commentary book made me realize that pretty much all the rabbis thought that any women who went outside more than once a month was asking for it. That’s one example of a mindset that should be changed by time.) Feinstein, Mr. Spit On Women If They Wear Tefillin? Chofetz Chayim, Mr. We Only Teach Women Torah As A Temporary Concession To Stave Off Assimilation (And Preferably Only So That They Can Teach Their Sons Torah)?
It’s getting to a point, though, where my need to observe this thing “Torah Judaism” is overpowering my disdain for the overt sexism and other little problems of Orthodoxy. I’ve got to face facts; no amount of ideology is going to help me if no one in my circle but me is keeping Shabbat, for instance. Maybe I have to “pick my battles”, like my high school principal once told me. I didn’t see before why that rabbi in Washington DC wanted me to live in an Orthodox community, but now I’m starting to (naturally I can’t act on that realization, but that’s another story). I feel like one of those guys in Plato’s cave—there’s a film over the way things could be! It’s so near, yet so far! It’s very discouraging! (Not to mention disorienting.)
I’m having the same problem again—even if I do personally think a Conservative conversion is a fine choice ideologically, I don’t want to have to pledge allegiance to Conservatism. It’s like the glass ceiling. Sooner or later, I’ll need an Orthodox conversion.
I might even take a year off of school to do this. You probably can’t understand the cognitive dissonance this whole “half-Jewish” thing causes unless you’re there in the midst.
** Case in point: I’m listening to music right now DURING THE NINE DAYS! OH! NO!
Although I might not shave…just for kicks.