Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Shiny Happy People Holding Hands

“Hello you!” I said when I saw her. “How’ve you been?”

She said she was on a new path in life and feeling very good about it. She had broken up with her boyfriend and was looking for someone new, someone real.

“You look terrific,” I commented.

“I feel great,” she told me. “I’ve been working out, getting in shape, and I lost fifteen pounds since I stopped keeping Shabbos. All I did on Shabbos was sit around and eat."

I was disappointed. And, in uncharacteristic fashion, I let her know I was disappointed. Because I believed she knew better. She was better. “How could you do a thing like that?” I asked. “How could you just give up Shabbos?”

“Well, you know,” she said cheerfully, “Shabbos just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.”

Aha. I see.

It seems that for the last several decades, the Jewish outreach establishment has been guilty of a certain amount of deception. They’ve been selling Torah and Judaism under a pretext—the doctrine of happiness. “Become religious and your problems will vanish,” they all but shout. “Living a life of Torah is true freedom, true happiness.”

Well, yes it is. But.

Here’s a hard fact to swallow: Judaism is not always pleasurable, not always convenient, not always spiritually uplifting. Sometimes even—brace yourselves!—Judaism is a real drag. It’s burdensome. It’s inconvenient. Sometimes Judaism just doesn’t “do it” for us.

G-d will always challenge our commitment to His Torah. Sometimes those tests will be small (a little loshon hara here, a little angry outburst there); sometimes they will loom large (Do the Rabbis really have the authority to tell me what to do? Does G-d really care about every little thing I do?)

If we are intellectually honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge the irrationality of questioning God when we are feeling down and out, but not when we are feeling positive and motivated. However, that’s not the way many of us operate. As long as Judaism is “working” for me, I’m in. I believe. But as soon as it gets to be “too much,” as soon as that emotional high departs, I’m done.

Our relationship with G-d is compared to a marriage, and in marriage, love begins where infatuation leaves off. Love is a result of commitment, and G-d challenges that commitment. That’s not to say that G-d wants Judaism to bore and burden us, but He does want us to run that gauntlet every so often.

The Torah identifies these two poles. On the one hand is the Living Torah, the Torah of good clean living, which gives us a structured lifestyle—the troika of Shabbos, kashrus and taharas hamishpachah—that is conducive to long-term happiness. At the other end is the Torah of Truth, the vision of G-d’s world that we subjugate ourselves to His word and will—whether we understand it or not, whether we feel like it or not.

There are many descriptions of the Torah given in Scripture. Yet the word “Toras—the Torah of,” which to my mind is a distillation of the essence of Torah, happens only rarely. Sometimes the Torah is called Toras Hashem, the Torah of G-d; sometimes it is called Toras Moshe, the Torah of Moses. But the only two descriptive (as opposed to possessive) terms for the Torah are Toras Chessed and Toras Emes. These are the two sides of Torah.

Many times in life, G-d blesses us with kindness, with charity, with His everpresent love, and we feel the radiance of His closeness. Toras Chessed—literally, the Torah of Kindness—stands for that facet of the Torah which makes life warm and wonderful. Our days feel shiny, bright, and full of hope. Our classes are inspirational, our friendships motivate us to be good and to do good.

Then there’s the rest of life.

Often we don’t feel a thing. We don’t feel moved we don’t feel motivated, and we certainly don’t feel spiritual. Instead, we feel drained, put upon, frustrated, even angry. Judaism “just doesn’t do it for us anymore.” That’s where Toras Emes comes in.

On Sinai we swore our allegiance: “Naaseh venishmah—We will do and we will hear.” Sometimes the doing has to come before the hearing. Sometimes we observe even when we don’t “hear” what it’s doing for us. Sometimes we do what the Torah asks us through clenched teeth because the truth is it is the Word of G-d. And even when we’re not fully convinced that we know exactly what the truth is, we do it because we believe in the essence of Judaism. We believe in the Torah.

To quote those nice Jewish boys from California, “Wouldn’t it be nice…” Wouldn’t it be nice if every mitzvah we did gave us instant spiritual gratification? Wouldn’t it be nice if every Shabbos was a 25-hour period of emotional bliss? Wouldn’t it be nice if every time we sat down to study Torah we were overwhelmed by intellectual stimulation? Wouldn’t it be nice if every time we prayed we felt instantly connected to G-d?


But that’s not life—not even most of the time. So when those moments do come, savor them. But when they don’t come, just do the best you can. And never give up.


Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Nice Post. Living in Israel adds to the challenge - yet makes the "high" so much sweeter when you experience it.

Rav Soloveitchik often described the challenge of Judasim. If you aren't constantly tormented, you're not doing it right.

Thu Jul 28, 06:32:00 AM  
Blogger fsgsf said...

Nice post ClooJew!!!


NJ from NJ

Thu Jul 28, 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Elster said...

Well said ClooJew. Let's face it, being an orthodox jewish person can be really HARD. IS really hard. It's hard to fast so many times a year, it's hard to wake up an hour earlier than you need to to go to shul in the morning. To slip quietly out of the office to catch a mincha minyan. It's hard to only have one "real" weekened day to both relax and run your errands because on shabbos you couldn't.

Hard Hard Hard. Is it worth it? Of course it is. Well, it is to me. Why? Because I believe in toras emmes. And I cannot imagine going through life not believing that I am a part of the one true faith/religion.

You want to know why Tom Cruise is a nutty scientologist? Here's a theory. Because he's acheived all of the fame, fortune and glory there is and he's asked himself "Is this it? Is this all there is out there? There HAS to be something more." Alas for him, it's scientology. For Maddona it's the apparantly seperate religion of Kabbalah.

But I digress. Yes it's hard but ultimately it's worth it. Judaism and belief in the Torah and the values it espouses are an anchor in a truly anchorless world.

Thu Jul 28, 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Veev said...

You were right to compare being Jewish with being married. It's not all moonlight and roses, and, just like your friend there, once the honeymoon is over, it's over altogether. I've seen it a lot in marriages, and I've seen it in Kiruv, too.

Thu Jul 28, 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger brianna said...

Sometimes it feels like being Jewish keeps me away from things I want to do. I mean hey everyone wants to have fun. To just be. Uninhibited, not bound by any rules. To just be 'free'. It's tempting. And sometimes I fail. But then I try to make my mind cycle back to what I really want. No one's forcing me to be frum. I am because I believe in it. And no matter how many mistakes I make, I get back up and try again. Because it's worth it. I'm worth it.

Thu Jul 28, 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

Great message, cloo.

Good things are worth striving for, even if it's hard. Like college for instance is hard work, but people keep at it because of that goal of accomplishment.

Plus, I want to add something to what you said about marriage.
A husband and wife, who are truly committed to each other, don't just do their obligations when it's enjoyable. They do them even when it's a burden. B/c the marriage would fall apart if they was only for themself.
When things get tough, we should look ahead and think of our accomplishment if we keep at it.:)

Thu Jul 28, 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent Post, Great Blog.
Yasher Koach.

Thu Jul 28, 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Malka said...

I really enjoyed your post. Obviously, as a convert I have a completely different take on it. Coming from a milieu where everything wasn't exactly always permitted but almost, I am craving exactly the opposite today. Indeed, it is hard to be a Jew, it is not easy or convenient like you said but the rewards, for me at least, are so great that the sacrifices pale in comparison. Thanks for a fabulous post.

Thu Jul 28, 05:01:00 PM  
Anonymous yigibear said...

There are ways to stay high most of the time. And they keep you well afloat at downtimes.

This is what most people who are honest to themselves do - clinch their teeth and drag along, hoping for better in the future. But this all is not new. It can all be elevated. Always! That's what Mussar And Chassidus accomplish. Clinching teeth alone is a remedy which kept us going, but there are definitely better places to be. We need to open the sfarim that pull our hearts more often. It works like magic :-P

Thu Jul 28, 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Shopaholic said...

Thanks for yet another one of your amazing, insightful posts. i love your stlye of writing.
You should publish them- let the others enjoy your posts as well.

Fri Jul 29, 12:56:00 AM  
Blogger Pragmatician said...

I never understood what would motivate a person that grew up unreligiously to change their lifestyle.
I'm used to (except fasting, every time again a challenge again) life as an orthodox Jew, as I was raised with all the restrictions and must-does. I admire people who choose to live a religious Jewish life to no end. Too start learning and keeping the Halachos at a later age is an incredible and courageous commitment.

Fri Jul 29, 05:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent post. I love the toras emes - toras chessed vort. Is it a Rav Moshe Weinberger vort?

Fri Jul 29, 08:19:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

I came up with it on my own, but as my father is fond of saying: "I can't be the first Jew in 3300 years to think of this." So I'm sure others have said it.

I can understand why people would become Torah-observant despite the bumps in the road. While being frum is not necessarily a life of bliss, I believe that not being frum can be far worse.

It might be uplifting for you to talk with some baalei teshuvah about how and why they became religious. Such conversations should give you insight and perspective into your own observance. I know it's helped mine.

Fri Jul 29, 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger EN said...

Great post! Excellently written.

Fri Jul 29, 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Nice post, I appreciate the honesty.

Sun Jul 31, 02:47:00 AM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Excellent post and truly honest.

While staying with my Orthodox cousins, I have found that being regulated by probitions and commandments gives them a sense of community and family that most of us do not really have.

Sun Jul 31, 06:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Jew Speak said...


Nice post! What about people that believe in Judaism but are just lazy to do the work? I think it is possible to maintain inspiration but it takes work. Rabbi Tatz has an excellent article on why a good time never lasts
. Psychologists have even labeled this idea
"hedonic adaptation."

Sun Jul 31, 08:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

R. Tatz makes a good point about things being fresh and inspiring at first and then that fades aways and we have to work on it in order to actually grow.

Sun Jul 31, 10:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant we have to keep moving forward in order to grow

Sun Jul 31, 10:15:00 PM  
Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...


Good stuff. Far more importantly, did you take her out and "kiruv" her?


Tue Aug 02, 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

You and your one track mind, TRK!

Glad to have you back.

Tue Aug 02, 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger Margaritagirrl said...

Very good post.
Shabbos wasn't doing it for her anymore, huh?
Well, sometimes you have to hang in there, and keep the faith. It's all worth it....

Tue Aug 02, 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

Unfortunately, too many Jews, specicially FFBs, never choose to become frum. They only do it out of momentum - to keep their parents happy, or because they have a nice set of friends. But this is a shallow basis that is also in danger of drying up. As soon as they discover that there are other social circles out there, or when their kids decide that they specifically want to be different than their parents, their religion just "doesn't do it" for them either.

A person can perceive many wonderful experiences resulting from their faith, but the core of the journey must be a quest for the truth.

Wed Aug 03, 12:47:00 AM  
Anonymous hajew said...

Thanks for the much needed chiuzuk.

Sat Aug 06, 10:27:00 PM  
Blogger turquoiseblue said...

Great post!

To add a bit to it - I just heard a torah-thought... and part of it went something like this: One of the strong reasons why a person does not get an instant reward for a mitzva - is because that would be taking away his "free choice" bechira.

Imagine every time we did a mitzva, we'd get another one of our wishes fulfilled. Show me one person in the world that would NOT keep the mitzvos/torah... I need a new car. I'll go visit my sick neighbor - and presto - got my car. New house? no problem, you just bentched esrog. You have a cold- wanna feel better? No problem. Just say something nice to your wife :)

It would be easy/no work to "believe"...

It would be like, duh, of course I want to be a part of this club.

So the reward gets reserved, sort of as a 401k plan. Which leaves plenty space for us to waver/choose the more comfortable way over the Torah way... (trade-off between enjoy the here and now, or future) which leaves us with a perfect "choice" in the matter. Which is what hashem wants us to have. We are no puppets (in that sense).

Now, really this torah-thought went deeper - saying that (and I am very bad at repeating/quoting sources etc. - but the gist of it is) that you DO get reward in this world - if you do a mitzva with simcah. With emunah. There's a (torah)rule that "you must pay your worker the same day". So how can Hashem do that? not reward us immediately? But, there's another rule that if you hired an employee through a messenger, then that pay-same-day obligation does not apply. Hashem gave us the torah through Moshe Rabbeinu - so there. BUT, the first 2 dibros Hashem gave over himself... so if someone does a mitzva/follows the torah with simcha/emunah - on that portion Hashem will (have to so to speak pay-same-day) reward "instantly" in this world - when a person does a mitzva just for the sake of "doing it because hashem said so - not because of the obvious reward" he's reached a level of emunah - that he CAN be rewarded for instantly.

It just made alot of sense - and kind of related to what you were saying in your post.

Mon Aug 08, 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...


You read my mind when you wrote "So the reward gets reserved, sort of as a 401k plan"

My follow up post (which is already written but will have to wait till after Tisha B'Av) uses that exact analogy.

Stay tuned!

Mon Aug 08, 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

What a great post.

I think that keeping Shabbos and turning down the noise in life has its own set of challeges. If your friend just 'sat around and ate' one has to wonder why.

Did she have trouble facing some down time?

I wonder if she really somehow doesn't like herself and has trouble being quiet and just thinking.

Sometimes when people just eat and eat its to numb out.

Tue Aug 23, 05:42:00 PM  
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