Who’s a Jew, part III: Deflecting common misconceptions

This posting continue a series of pieces called “Who’s a Jew.” These essays are not pretenders to halachic discussions nor are they an invitation to debate the relative worth of the various streams of Judaism or of the other boxes into which individuals and groups try to stuff Yiddishkeit. Rather, these writings are meant to be reflections, contemplations, inspirations, and the like, for the many faceted ways in which Judaism is reflected in each of us. It’s important for us to validate that Jews come in lots of flavors.
Among my dear friends are three wonderful women, all of whom are versed in Torah, all of whom are married to learned men, and all of whom misunderstand me. One calls me her “mitzvah girl.” Another “talks straight” to me, even when I need to be buoyed with measured discourse. The third talks down to me, “explaining,” unbidden, rules that even preschoolers grasp. All, sadly, objectify me.
Torah tells us to judge other people favorably. Perhaps one reason why we are supposed to act accordingly is because it is literally impossible to truly comprehend another person’s situation be that other person a spouse, a sibling, a child, a parent or a friend.
People forget that generalizations can be hurtful and that active listening, not prescribed behavior, is almost always the right move to make with significant others.
I believe that my dear ones would not treat me with such uncomfortable aplomb, if, has v’shalom, they were undergoing experiences similar to mine. It follows that dear ones should be given some slack for their responses. Granted, the act of (unintentionally) draining or trying to drain the dignity from another individual is often a sign of maladies. People who shuffle through life seeking external validation for self-definition/self worth, ought to be pitied, not disdained. Nonetheless, their behavior hurts.
To wit, it’s important to remember that only Hashem has the right to Judge us and that, subsequently, we ought to deflect both the articulated and implied adjudications of anyone else. Living that resoluteness is a tough business, though, which can only work when we are scrupulously accountable to the Boss. It’s not possible to act as though peoples’ opinions matter and as though The Boss is The Judge.
In truth, what counts, in our Jewishness, in particular, and in our living, in general, is how successful we are at being ourselves, when on this globe. There are no “better thans” or “worse thans” in the realms above, only degrees of fulfilled potential.
Avraham argued less with G-d than did Moshe, but Moshe, alone, was empowered to receive the Torah. Yermiyahu was fashioned to warn Bnai Yisrael of the consequences of our follies, nonetheless Yonah’s mission was to emphasize the importance of teshuva. Likewise, Rabbi Akiva did not acquire Torah until midlife, yet Yitzhak was suckled on it.
We’re not meant to be the same as each other or to be measured by each other’s yardsticks.
As per how I relate to the friend, who glosses over all of my deeds to the extent that she makes all of them praiseworthy, I summon internal brassiness so that I can mentally shrug. I have learned to seek sources other than her for guidance since I have learned that in a system of ethics, in which there is no right or wrong, there is no growth.
Regarding the pal who offers only the strictest interpretations of my experiences and who expects me, even during times of acute anguish, to embrace Hashem’s Stringencies, rather than to pray for Hashem’s Mercy, I create invite enough intrapersonal “chutzpah” to fashion boundaries between us. After I heal a bit, I try to compassionately regard her, to hold her as an individual who is unable to feel concern for someone else’s misfortune because she never received such kindnesses.
Finally, in terms of my gal pal, who necessarily must be comparatively superior to me, I call forth adequate “cheek” to douse me with self-love. I try not to respond with antagonism toward her. Anyone who needs to reduce a full blown adult to a child’s status, herself, needs emotional coddling.
In short, we ought not to allow others’ longwinded invectives to neutralize our self-esteem. The steps each of us have taken and continue to take to improve ourselves, regardless of whether or not we backslide, are incalculable. In contrast, the nature of our life histories and the specifics of our status quos serve as settings for our personal development, nothing more.
There was a time in my life when I knew no Shomer Shabbot souls. That period was followed by a time when I was convinced that all things machmir were best and that strict ways of being were incapable of bring machpid. At present, Baruch Hashem, I hold somewhere in between. When I pray to Tzur Yisrael for guidance on how to best be me and on how to gently detach myself from other people’s estimations, my past extremes lose their relevance.
If I was meant to have started off Israeli or religious, I would have been born into such circumstances. That I was not was my exactly correct destiny. Similarly, if I was meant to have: more or less money, more or less professional success, more or less ease in acquiring Hebrew, more or less health, more or less effortlessness in embracing G-d’s rules, more or less joy from my children, and so forth, such would already have been Granted. Attending to others’ comments about the circumstances in which my life has been evolving does not make me a better Jew, but potentially harms me.
My aforementioned friends are expert in appreciating the good in their own difficult situations. To expect that they can also see the plusses in my life is unrealistic. So, we share hugs, honey cake and sma’achot. I keep in mind, when we speak, that I, bumps, warts, and all, am as much an exemplar of Yiddishkeit as are they.
B’ezrat Hashem, Part IV of “Who’s a Jew,” “Jeans” will provide an allegory for means by which we can begin to heal the hurts we Jews sometimes inflict upon each other. Part V, “Media Savvy: the Fires of Rhetoric” will take apart some of the ways in which Jewish identity impacts the media and some of the ways in which media frameworks impact Jewish identity. Part VI, “Blaring among the Mustards,” will explore the relationship of Jewishness to Otherness, especially in this era of the global village. Part VII, “Overview” will look at some unrequited longings.
Response to Readers
First, per folks who posted in reply to “Tweaking Perspective;”
Cousin Jan, I love that we keep in touch, across the world, via the wonder of the Internet. Please keep writing in. I want to share your journey!
Rabbi Ian Pear, I am flattered by your remarks. Please write more both to this blog and in your own domains. Consider me a fan.
Second, per the nice reader who posted in reply to “Who’s Jew, Part II- So Much Clap Trap;”
Jodi Lipsitz, welcome aboard! It’s precious to me when readers share their views. Please comment often.