I’m writing this idly while waiting for Mum to wake up so we can light Chanukah candles (she’s not feeling well, so we haven’t lit yet). I wasn’t planning on writing as I don’t really have much to say today, or rather, I do, but I need time to process things, discuss them with my therapist (who is away until January now) and internalise them and even then some of them may be too personal to write. But I’m at a loose end, so I’ll write a bit of what I’ve been feeling over the last few weeks and especially over Shabbat (the Sabbath).
Shabbat was hard again. I felt quite depressed and socially anxious in shul (synagogue) on Friday night again and slept through Shabbat morning after insomnia on Friday night. The depression really does hit me in shul on Shabbat evening, when I’m away from the displacement activity of work. I felt better during dinner, but felt very depressed and anxious during my hitbodedut. Hitbodedut (literally ‘making oneself alone’) combines elements of prayer, meditation and, I guess, therapy. Whereas prayer in Judaism usually means set prayers, in Hebrew, with a minyan (prayer quorum), hitbodedut is just talking to God in the vernacular, for as long as you want, saying whatever you want. During the week it’s been very hard to do lately, partly from tiredness, partly from the ‘blocked’ nature of so much of my life, particularly my religious life, at the moment. But on Shabbat it all comes out. A lot of pain and depression and guilt and probably some anxiety and maybe sometimes anger. Feelings of inadequacy and wondering how I can go on.
Lately I wonder how I can go on, why I’m still a frum (religious) Jew when Judaism probably causes me some pain and certainly uses a lot of energy, motivation and concentration that is in short supply with the depression, social anxiety and Asperger’s. It’s not for reward, because I feel like God hates me and wants to punish me and that I don’t deserve a share in Olam HaBa (the Next World). It’s not for fear of punishment, because even though I know rationally that punishment in Olam HaBa is worse than anything in this world, what I have been suffering over the last seventeen years or so seems as bad as anything else I could suffer; anyway, suffering in Olam HaBa only lasts one year, then you go to your reward or, if you’re really bad, your soul just stops existing. That seems better than what I’m going through now, which has been going on for seventeen years (at least) and could go on for another seventy. It’s not for family reasons, because I’m the most religious person in my immediate family, so I’m not fitting in with the others. It’s not from peer pressure, because most of my friends are not frum or not Jewish and most of the Jewish friendships have been made after things got hard for me. It’s not for community, because I don’t feel I belong to one. It’s not for simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of performing the commandments) because I don’t generally feel it because of the depression, although I do love Shabbat.
All I know is the story told by the Kotzker Rebbe (my hero), that all the souls come down to Earth from Heaven and the angel pulls up the ladder behind them. God says, “Leap up to Heaven.” Some souls say, “It’s impossible to leap from Earth to Heaven” and don’t even try. Some try for a bit, but soon give up. But some say, “If God tells me to leap into Heaven, I must keep trying” and they try and try and eventually God has mercy on them and reaches down and pulls them into Heaven.
I guess for me the jumping is an end in itself. It’s the triumph of will over experience. I believe in God and in the divine authorship of the Torah, so I jump, even though it hurts and even though I don’t expect to get anything positive out of it.
Anyway, I can’t imagine not being a Jew and I can’t imagine Judaism without halakhah (Jewish law/practice) – all attempts at creating cultural or non-halakhic Judaisms seem to me to be problematic and question-begging. So I keep halakhah to be a Jew, because I am a Jew and I know I want to be a Jew. Maybe it doesn’t have to be any deeper than that.