Today was focused around shul (synagogue), as Shabbat (the Sabbath) often is, although I managed to do a fair amount of religious reading this afternoon, looking at some things the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks has written on the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) in preparation for them as well as going for a thirty-five minute walk, which was all good. In shul, the rabbi said he knows he owes me an email regarding meeting before I join the shul, which means I shouldn’t have to phone him (hooray!), but I will have to see him, probably this week (scary!). I know I have to do this to join the shul, which I really want to do, especially as I even managed a few brief conversations with people after shul on Friday evening and at the kiddush (refreshments) today, but it is scary. I generally don’t mind talking to rabbis per se, I seem to be able to get on a similar wavelength even if I haven’t been to yeshiva (the wavelength in any case seems to be as much about rabbinical humour (clean, often punning, occasionally sarcastic) as Torah or religion), but I’m scared about what he might ask me. I don’t know how to describe my religious background, personal journey or level of knowledge. I feel uncomfortable mentioning my interests and hobbies. I feel guilty for only really attending shul on Shabbat and only attending one shiur (religious class) a week, but at the moment I don’t see what else I can do with my mental health. I have actually told the rabbi a bit about my mental health, but not much and I don’t know how much more to say.
I did admit to myself today that my non-attendance at shul is as much about anxiety/social anxiety as depression and low energy: my community davens (prays) in a school on Shabbat and Yom Tov (festivals), so during the week, when the school is in use, they use a room in a different shul, and I have never been and am terrified of not being able to find it. I know where the building is, but I don’t know the code for the security lock on the door (although I could find out easily enough) and don’t know where to go once past the door. The whole thing has got out of proportion in my head, so it’s easier to say, oh, I’m too tired and depressed to go (plus it is quite a way to walk for a short weekday service compared with the other shul I do occasionally go to on weekdays).
In his shiur tonight the rav (rabbi) was talking about finding our essence. He asked what we would ask for if God offered us one wish (and rejected all the frummie cop-out answers like wanting to be better Jews (or wishing for more wishes, which someone suggested…)). He asked what is the thing that, when we get it, we can never get enough of it. This was all a prelude to the Yamim Noraim, when we pray for a good new year and try to repent and reorient ourselves to have a better year (morally, spiritually, physically) next year. It’s a tough question. I think I know what my answer would be to the one wish question and from that I can work out the one thing that drives me question, but I’m not sure I like the answer. It’s not the worst possible answer, but I’m not sure how great it is. I’m not sure that I should share it, given that the rav said it’s a private question, although you can probably make a good guess from what I write anyway; the answer didn’t particularly surprise me, although it did seem quite stark thinking of it as the one thing I want and that drives me.
I did have another interesting thought over Shabbat related to the forthcoming new year. There is a concept in Judaism that all our income for the year is determined on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). You have to do some work to earn it and you can increase it by giving more to tzedaka (charity), but beyond that, no matter how much you work, you can’t get any more. Similarly, there is a concept of bashert (soul mates), that a person’s spouse is decided before birth. I believe in the former completly and I don’t generally worry about money, even though I’m in a somewhat financially precarious position (my contract expires in April, there is the risk of my getting ill again and losing my job and although I’m earning more than I used to, I’m still on a fairly low income and my parents are still helping me out despite the fact that my Dad’s been unemployed for about nine months). On the other hand, I’m terrified that I’ve somehow missed my bashert or that God doesn’t want me to marry. To be fair to myself, the income idea is pretty much universally accepted as far as I know, whereas the latter is subject to interpretation as to both its existance and its parameters, although as a folk belief it’s very strong. Of course, the former is also untestable (whatever a person earns, we can only assume it is the ‘right’ amount), while bashert seems to me demonstrably false, at least in the simplistic way people seem to think of it (there is someone who you will marry): some people never marry; the theory tries to account for not marrying, divorce, widowhood and remarriage, but tends to become very complicated and far from the simplistic folk version. At any rate, I wonder if I should be working on my bitachon (trust in God) in the area of marriage. It probably wouldn’t affect whether I got married, but I might feel less anxious. Trusting God feels like not doing my histadlut (effort), which is required even for bashert, but I can trust God and do my histadlut regarding work with no problem. It’s very confusing. I suppose deep down I simply don’t trust God, which is a terrible thing for a religious person to say. I trust He wants the best for me, but I fear He has created me in a way and for a purpose that the best for me involves mostly suffering and loneliness. I don’t know how much this is a realistic fear and how much the consequence of years of mental illness, loneliness, misery and poor treatment by authority figures when growing up.
As I said, I did manage to speak to people a little bit at the kiddush, albeit not very much. I have mentioned before that all the men tend to stand on one side of the tables and all the women on the other. This means that if I’m eating instead of talking, I end up facing the women, which might not have been the intention of whoever decided on this layout. I saw a woman there I had seen before but never paid much attention to. I noticed today that she seemed to be like me inasmuch as she seemed to be standing by herself or hovering on the edge of groups without talking to anyone. I wondered if she is also shy or if her usual friends are away (a lot of people are still on holiday). I have no idea if she is my age (she has the kind of face that could be any age between twenty and forty-five), but she wasn’t wearing a ring and I don’t think her hair was covered, so she’s not married. Part of me wanted to talk to her, but I wouldn’t have had a clue to what to say or the confidence to say it, even if it was possible from across the table. I don’t even know what her name is. I’m bad enough with the names of the men (I’m not great with names generally, at getting the confidence to ask for them or remembering them), but I don’t know the women in my shul at all. In nearly eighteen months I think I’ve spoken to two women, one is the wife of one of my male friends (because they invited me for Shabbat dinner) and one was the woman who said something to me across the kiddush table the other week, I think because I was the nearest person. I do find the Orthodox division of the sexes a bit disconcerting sometimes as generally speaking I often find it easier to talk to women than men for some reason.