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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Am I Flipping Out?

A comment on my last post:

Anonymous said...

PT-I have to say that I just don't buy this. Up until your pop passed away, you came to minyan when you could, certainly davened, but were not in up to your neck with doing all sorts of public worship type things (at least that is what it seemed like to me). And I thought that was cool, because evidently you had come to a level of Yiddishkeit that worked for you, your family, and your place in the community. I thought it was even cooler because you did NOT hop on the bandwagon like everyone else here and shave your head, grow payos down to your bellybutton, wear garb from the 1800s, and somehow discover that you were the scion of a lost dynasty and reclaim your rightful heritage.

But then your pop passes away. Okay. I get trying to make minyan and say kaddish, but why feel bad if you miss one or two? Or you cannot make minyan for once and have to daven b'yichidus? And this leining thing - what is up with that? What is making you say that your Yiddishkeit as it was before your father's passing was not good enough? (Bad grammar)

Maybe just as big a question to me is why the need to PUBLICLY express this newfound Yiddishkeit (assuming that there is justification for it - see my questions above)? That is something that really bothers me - why can't people have a good relationship with Hashem and leave it at that? Why do they need to flaunt (sp?) so that we can all see it? I am not inspired by them; my connection to Hashem comes from my own awareness, knowledge, and learning. It almost is like they are trying to prove to me that they are frum.

Whatever. I sign this as anonymous but I think you might know who this is. If so, when you see me in the AM (not in either minyan but learning) then we can schmooze about it, although probably not then since you need to get to work and so do I.Sorry for being such a party-popper. Maybe it is that time of month for me.

My response:

PsychoToddler said...

Anonymous: “I sign this as anonymous but I think you might know who this is. If so, when you see me in the AM

I THINK I know who it is but I’m a little thick and I may be wrong. I’m confused because the person I think it is had more positive things to say the last time I wrote about layning. I’m sorry I didn’t see you this AM; we had trouble getting a minyan in the beginning.

“Up until your pop passed away, you came to minyan when you could, certainly davened, but were not in up to your neck with doing all sorts of public worship type things (at least that is what it seemed like to me). And I thought that was cool, because evidently you had come to a level of Yiddishkeit that worked for you, your family, and your place in the community.”

You were wrong about me. I was in a bad place. I tried to act like that was the practice of Judaism that I preferred because I was too lazy to do anything about it and too resistant to change. There were a lot of inconsistencies about me that were eating away at me and having negative influence on my family. I needed to change. My father’s death was the kick in the butt that I needed.

“I thought it was even cooler because you did NOT hop on the bandwagon like everyone else here and shave your head, grow payos down to your bellybutton, wear garb from the 1800s, and somehow discover that you were the scion of a lost dynasty and reclaim your rightful heritage.”

Scroll down a few posts and read the one about my new HDTV, and go over to DovBear and read my post about hats, and tell me if you really think that I’m “flipping out.” Because I’m not. The problem is that I think YOU have bought into the program a little more than you realize. You’re starting to think that putting on a uniform equates with higher frumkeit, and you’re confused about me being more stringent with certain things while still not adopting the “levush.” Well the truth is that I allowed my resentment of that attitude to be a barrier that prevented me from observing Judaism correctly. I came from a background of Modern Orthodoxy, where people who went to movies and rock concerts still managed to make it to minyan twice a day and could layn and lead the services, and from that perspective I have been a disappointment. It’s not a matter of me being yeshivish or chassidish and failing to live up to THOSE standards. It’s that I have my OWN standards and have failed to live up to even those. I’m sorry if I can’t be as much of an inspiration to slackers as you’d like me to be.

Go back to the beginning of this post and read why I think that layning is important to ME. It’s because I have a certain potential and I’ve used all kinds of excuses to avoid reaching it. I’m not saying that layning=higher observance. For me it is something that I was once good at, and that serves the community, and therefore I think for my own benefit (and yes, maybe to serve as an example to my children) I should try to maintain. To quote our favorite alternative rabbi, "It's not for everyone."

“It almost is like they are trying to prove to me that they are frum.”

You’ll get no arguments with me there. I have written over and over on this blog and elsewhere what I think of that attitude. Your actions tell people who you are, not your hat.

“why feel bad if you miss one or two?”

Because that’s just the way I am. I am a creature of habit. I know that it’s either all the way or not at all. If I take a very lackadaisical approach to minyan, I will have plenty of excuses to blow it off, and eventually I will stop going altogether. I am capable of looking at myself analytically and realizing what my strengths and weaknesses are and addressing them (no matter what some of my relatives might say). I may be wrong, but I think most people are this way about habits and momentum. Employ a little intellectual honesty.

“why the need to PUBLICLY express this newfound Yiddishkeit”

Other than the fact that tfilla betzibur is by definition “public”, I don’t think that I’m publicly flaunting anything. Aderaba (on the contrary), I am painfully aware that the other people who make up my minyan (and you, too) have been doing all this for years, and without the excuse of having to say kaddish. If anything, I still have a ways to go to make it to their level.

If by “public” you mean putting it on this blog, maybe you have a point. Except that this blog is still MY private home on the web, and nobody is forcing anyone to be here. Also I have found that the blog by its nature has helped me to reexamine myself, my priorities, my excuses, and by holding them up to the light, see which were valid and which were empty. The blog keeps me honest.

I’ve made many changes in my life that go beyond shul. I’m exercising, I’m taking care of my health better, and there are other aspects that still need a lot of work.

Look, as a human being, you’re either growing or you’re dying. You have to decide which side of the line you want to be on. My father spent his last 20 years on the wrong side of that line. I’m not going to let that happen to me.

23 comments:

PsychoToddler said...

Bad blog ettiquette to be the first to comment on your own post.

Never-the-less:

I broke this out from the prior post at the request of several people because it's a really great exchange and forces me to look more analytically at my motivations, and also it was off-topic for the other post, which was really about stage fright and layning.

So if you wrote a great follow-up comment on the other post, feel free to recopy it over here.

Ezzie said...

I think this was a great, great post.

Anonymous said...

Seconding Ezzie's comment.
Yeah, just really...good.

DovBear said...

All old guys flip out. Or buy tiny red cars. It's part of nature.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what constitues a "great follow-up comment," but nevertheless:

The part about you examining your excuses, seeing which ones were valid and which were empty, really resonates, and it makes me thing you deserve a lot of credit for your honesty.

I'm wondering, when you talk about inconsistencies (who isn't inconsistent at least to some degree?), how is it possible to have kids the ages of your kids and 'get away with' being inconsistent? I feel like my daughter is calling me on stuff, and she's three years old!

When I think of my upbringing, going to yeshiva without being shomer shabbos, etc., I made mental promise after promise that whether I'd be religious or not as an adult, I'd aim for consistency. It was too messy and confusing to have such a disparity. It's one thing to make certain compromises for ourselves, but it's very hard to give those over as a half-baked mesorah to our kids, or at least to do it and have them respect us for that. So I totally get that you are trying to align belief and action, and it doesn't matter why, really, as long as you're getting to it.

In general, and not necessarily related to the previous, I think that any time you have a household where you are not "buying into" one camp or the other, are toeing the line on certain issues, send your kids to schools that are not exactly where you're at, etc, there will be things that feel really inconsistent. I also think that people I know who find their own path and do not follow the herd in full sheep costume, are the ones whose struggle I respect a lot more, whether or not I should.

PsychoToddler said...

Can I have a little red car now? I would like a Pontiac Solstice.

Rachel said...

I am so impressed. Of anyone I know, you definitely have a good grasp on where you are, and why you are there.

Now, if you were wearing a Kabbalah bracelet and following Madonna, I mean the Kabballah movement in Beverly Hills, I would have a different thought...but bearing in mind the complexities of a son's relationship with his father, and mourning the end of that, not to mention being the father of 6...

Kol ha k'vod. Don't let the others bring you down.

Essie said...

Absolutely Kol Hakavod. It's terrific that you are allowing your Dad's death to affect your positively and not negatively. Your honesty is very refreshing and we can all learn a lot from you.

Doctor Bean said...

CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP!

Booful, man. Just booful.

Jewish Blogmeister said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jewish Blogmeister said...

Certainly a mouthful and plenty to digest there. I would like to add that a person should NEVER be happy with his level of "ruchnius" we should always be striving to be better and closer to the one above. There is nothing wrong with trying to be a better Jew. It's the people who stay stagnant who fall prey to the practice of business as usual who have the problem.

treppenwitz said...

It's telling that the people who have the biggest problem with others making a public declaration of their personal growth have no problem making public declarations criticizinig and denigrating such statements.

Anon sounds like someone who is so profoundly uncomfortable in his own skin that he needs to constantly reassure himself by tearing others down.

While this was a fantastic (ind instructive) post... anon really isn't worth the thought you put into the period at the end of the last sentence.

torontopearl said...

PT: I have a little red car -- a sports car -- I can give you. I think my youngest son is no longer playing with his Hot Wheels (tm) or Matchbox(tm) cars!

Seriously, though, both this and the last post are excellent and very refreshing. You are sharing with us, a bunch of strangers, your thoughts about where you are and where you want to go in life...in Yiddishkeit.

I think a post like this makes some of us perform a self-examination. Are we happy with where we are? Can we do better? Do we WANT to do better?

No doubt many of your readers had already made assumptions of how frum you are; you're showing us that even you know you want to improve on it. You are certainly not stagnant.

Ayelet said...

Two things I've heard in the past that have stuck in my brain and have some relevance to the topic at hand: 1) Personal yiddishkeit is not quite like being on a ladder. It's more like being on a down escalator. If you're not deliberately moving up, you're moving down. Remaining on the same level is impossible. You need to work even to "maintain". 2) In terms of "worrying" about other people instead of worrying about yourself, it is one's responsibility to worry about one's own ruchaniyut and others' gashmiyut. Unfortunately, our natural tendency is to do the opposite (as Anon has demonstrated).

As far as making your personal struggles and accomplishments in yiddishkeit public, let it be a source of inspiration to those who choose to read them and be inspired. Let those who are offended avoid the blog altogether. I rather enjoy a healthy group of inspired "growers". Thank you for sharing with us.

Mrs. Balabusta said...

The Mrs. has something to say here.

First of all, I can say without a doubt that many things about the PT have changed since my FIL's passing, and some are good and some not-so-much. It's the nature of the dead to change the living, but I don't want to lose the audience in the existential definition of the universe.

In regard to Frumkeit or Yiddishkeit, if there is indeed a difference: it is not a newfound Frumkeit, you can't find something you never lost, but it is a new commitment to Frumkeit and here's why. In the past the PT's motto was basically he could take it or leave it as he pleased, the community didn't have much to offer that he wanted or needed.

Now he needs to say Kaddish, and for that he needs a minyan. Naturally it follows that he wants to give something back to the minyan, and something he can do is layn.

Davar Acher - When you do something with a specific group every day at the same time you become part of that group, whether it is minyan or the A train, it becomes a part of you, and that changes you, minute by minute. I am not saying he has been assimmilated by the Borg collective, but when he spent hour after hour on the x-box he became more about that, when he spends time in shul he becomes more about that, everyone does. Again, human nature.

Lastly, most of you don't live in this town, and trust me when I say you don't know what it is like. Contrary to other communities that are full of gedolim, this community is full of gedolim, but no one is good enough. The message all around is that we each have a long road ahead of us for self actualization. We can do more, we can be better, and the only thing stopping us, as the Rabbi said, "is the prisons we build around ourselves".

So I think the PT has found his freedom. He always had the freedom to opt out, but now he has the freedom to opt in.

He also has a wide screen TV, but I digress......

Anonymous said...

I've been in training class for a few days and didn't catch up with my favorite bloggers until today. Wow. I missed a lot.

Sometimes life wakes us up -- illness or death comes close enough to make us realize that life is short and we can't spend it sitting on the fence or on the sidelines.

Sounds like something like that happened to you. And you made some decisions, choices. I think that's great. From the outside, it may be hard for people who know you to adjust to the change in you. That's pretty normal. Seeing you, they may feel their own stirrings towards change, and that can be disturbing. So their reaction is to discount what you're going through.

It's real though, you know that. Good for you for embracing life.

Neil Harris said...

PT, an excellent response. My favorite quote:
"It’s not a matter of me being yeshivish or chassidish and failing to live up to THOSE standards. It’s that I have my OWN standards and have failed to live up to even those."
Killer!! Hope you have this guy over for Shabbos soon.

fudge said...

it was only after reading this post that a lot of things that confused me in high school finally became clear to me.

i love you, abba.

Kiwi the Geek said...

My father spent his last 20 years on the wrong side of that line. I’m not going to let that happen to me.

Wow, that was such a great line I don't even know what to say. Way to be motivated, PT! Now, if you could just bottle that and sell it...

wanderer said...

Bravo Mark! I think this is one of your most introspective and revealing posts. I applaud your candor and the ability to express these most liminal and personal thoughts.

As we begin to think about where to send our son to school, we are struggling with some of these same thoughts and issues. You have six children's worth of experience on us - thank you for sharing this. The comments above help as well!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and inspiring post. Especially the shoutout to the Gedolim of Gedolim of movies----Shawshank redemption."get busy living or get busy dying" AHHHH gadlus!! no mussar shmooze is complete without a shawshank reference. Brad.

dilbert said...

Excellent post. I think that I have been undergoing the same process(except thankfully it was not triggered by the death of a family member). I totally understand and agree with what you said. And, when you realize that, the little red cars of the world don't seem to matter that much(in contradistinction to the hdtv....).

PsychoToddler said...

Ezzie, Ilan – thanks

Raggedy: “how is it possible to have kids the ages of your kids and 'get away with' being inconsistent?”

It’s not. It seeps into their being. Whether they’re conscious of it or not they pick up on it. It’s one of the issues I’ve had living in a community that is a little more to the “right”… or maybe that’s not the right term…more “chumrahs” than I personally have had. So if the Rabbi gets up and says “TV is bad” and we have a TV, we’re in the position of saying either the Rabbi is wrong, or we’re wrong and we don’t care. It helps to have a little more variety out there so you can say, “well, this Rabbi doesn’t have an issue and we agree with him.”

Rachel and Essie: Thanks. It’s not all about my dad, but that’s part of it.

Doc Bean: Yes, I know.

JB: I don’t know if my ruchnius is getting any better. But my consistency is.

Trep: Anon may have his issues but he’s actually a friend of mine and I appreciate his honesty in the matter. And he’s done me a favor by forcing me to articulate my motivations.

TP: Your son isn’t playing with Matchbox cars anymore? What’s wrong with him?? I STILL play with my Matchbox cars!

You’re right: people make many assumptions about my level of frumkeit. In a way I can’t blame them. I realize that I have become something of an anti-hero for the anti-frummies out there. After all, I:

Play Devil Music in a Rock band

Refuse to wear a black hat
Own and watch a TV (and Satellite, even)

Play video games

Write a blog on the internet

Have normal hair

Take call on Shabbos

Own a pair of blue jeans and occasionally wear them

Have been known to dress like a caveman on occasion

Wouldn’t you assume that I’m some kind of apikores? It must disturb or at least bewilder people to find out that I have a chevrusah and daven from the amud every day and strive to learn to layn a few parshioyos.

I mean, what’s a hasidic rebel to think??

Ayelet: Anon actually quoted something similar in the other thread.

Mrs B: Wow. Amazingly insightful comment. You sound like maybe you know me or something.

I think that despite living here for 15 years I have never felt at home in the shul. I’ve felt like a guest in someone else’s shul. It’s not my shul; it’s the Rabbi’s. And so I’ve made this insulation around myself and refused to get too involved in it. If I didn’t like the fact that they end shabbos an hour or more after I do, I didn’t feel I had the right to say anything about it, because it’s their shul, not mine. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to be there. And so I wasn’t there. I didn’t go to mincha/maariv Saturday evening because I didn’t feel I had the right to complain about it. I just stayed home. So for many years, the extent of my involvement in shul was Saturday morning. Period.

Now certainly, saying kaddish requires much more of a time commitment in the shul. But I decided to switch gears long before my dad died. This is part of the inconsistency issue I was having with the kids. I made a decision a few years ago to start going to all the shabbos services in the shul, like it or not. And thankfully there is now a motzai shabbos maariv alternative that is on time. And for some services that are just unbearingly long at the shul I’ve been going to the shteeble as well. I know Mrs B doesn’t really like that, but for me it is a compromise between going somewhere or staying home altogether.

2 years ago I started attending the early minyan, because I got a call that they needed me so some guy could say kaddish. Say what you will about my sense of community citizenship, but if someone says “we need you” I put out. But it fizzled for me because they were shlepping it out and I was getting to work late and that annoyed me.

Since my kaddish obligation started, things are different. I am in the shul twice a day. And I control the davening more. And we can go at a slightly faster pace. And so now I do feel some ownership in the shul. I don’t feel like a guest any more. And if, week after week, we have to try to find someone to fake their way through the layning, but there are a couple of parshioyos that I can do, I’ll do them.

Miriam: it was nothing sudden. I knew this was coming and frankly I’d been dreading it for years. But y’know, it’s not so bad, I can handle it. It was kind of like jumping into a cold pool. You can stare all you want, dunk a toe here and there, but you’ll never go in until you jump.

Neil: Thanks. Very soon.

Perel: I love you too. Your comment makes it all worthwhile. I’m very proud of you.

Kiwi: …I could retire!

Wanderer: isn’t your kid like a year old?? Chill, dude. But yeah, find one with the hashkafa you like.

Brad: Crap. I thought I made that up.

Dilbert: Yeah, but a big red car might do the trick…