Just a few thoughts I was wrestling with over Shabbat (the Sabbath).
I couldn’t sleep on Friday night. I’m not sure why. I had a lot of somewhat agitated thoughts during the evening and they just continued when I got to bed. Eventually I got up and read an anthology of (not very good) Doctor Who comic strips until I felt tired enough to sleep.
The agitated thoughts raced around, but were mostly about the idea of belonging somewhere in the frum (religious Jewish) community and whether HaShem (God) loves me. The Jewish Chronicle had devoted quite a bit of space to Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ thirty-six page document laying out guidelines for United Synagogue Jewish schools regarding LGBT+ students. Obviously Orthodox Judaism has a more rigid and prescriptive approach to gender and sexuality than the secular West, but Rabbi Mirvis was concerned (quite rightly, in my opinion) about people feeling excluded from the community and especially about the high rate of suicide among LGBT+ people and the homophobia and transphobia people encounter in the Orthodox community. His aim was to create an inclusive community where pupils feel able to talk about their gender and sexuality without prejudice.
Although I’m not LGBT+ (and I’m technically not part of a United Synagogue shul any more, although I have links as my parents are), the fact that he was making a big effort to reach out to people that historically the mainstream Orthodox community has seen as being on the fringe, or beyond it, was comforting to me, as it implied a more inclusive community for everyone. Particularly as his argument for inclusion was based on “love your neighbour as yourself” and “do not stand by your brother’s blood” (i.e. don’t stand by when other people are in danger) and the fact that schools have a duty of care for all their students, rather than more pragmatic considerations (e.g. the community is shrinking and we can’t afford to turn people away).
So, I was thinking about this a lot. I’m not sure I can fully reconstruct my thought processes, but I suppose it was on the lines of, “Rabbi Mirvis implies HaShem loves everyone, regardless of who they are, therefore He must love me, regardless of all the bad things I do.” This obviously was not a new thought for me, but in the past I always follow it up with, “Well, if HaShem loves everyone, does He love Hitler then? Or Osama bin Laden?” and then I end up feeling that if He doesn’t love people who are evil, maybe I’m evil too. But I got thinking that if everyone is holy because they are created in the image of HaShem, with a holy soul, then it would only be if I committed murder (i.e. destroying the image of HaShem in someone else) or rape (equivalent to murder according to the Torah) that He would stop loving me. And, bad as I am, even at my most self-loathing I can’t claim to have committed rape or murder.
I’m not sure how coherent this reasoning is. Certainly the Jewish tradition argues that you can destroy your connection with HaShem with other sins, some of which I’ve done, but it also adds a load of caveats to that stating that you have to really understand the spiritual consequences of the bad things you’re doing and do them deliberately to anger HaShem in order to cut yourself off from Him forever and it’s generally assumed that these days people don’t have that awareness. But I guess this area of feeling loved or hated by HaShem is something I’m going to struggle with for a while longer, but I do feel as if I made a step forward last night.
In recent years I’ve influenced by a lot of Jewish religious existentialist thinkers. Jewish existentialism tends to focus a lot on relationships as the core of the religious experience, with ritual and study being subsidiary to that. The core idea is the encounter – the encounter with HaShem and the encounter with other human beings – when two people meet and are able to respond to each other from the depths of their souls. This appeals to me very much, but I feel I’m very bad at it. I do try to go to my support groups and to comment on mental health blogs online and to keep in touch with friends who have mental health issues. I feel that that is where I’m supposed to be right now, being there for other people, even if it’s just to listen and validate. (In my experience being heard – really being heard – is one of the most therapeutic things.) It’s hard though. I’ve let some bloggers whose blogs I read know that they can email me via my blog if they want, but I subsequently worried that that was too forward and maybe I scared them. I find interpersonal interactions laden with difficulty. Still, if anyone reading this feels lonely or distressed and wants to email, please use the link at the top. Although I say it myself, I consider myself a very non-judgemental person. I’m pretty good at responding to emails quickly, although there will be quite a few days this month when I can’t check my emails due to all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals).
At shiur (religious class) on Thursday someone assumed I was married with children and I had to tell I am single and childless. Tonight he asked how old I was and when I said I was thirty-five, he said I should get married. I said I want to, I just haven’t met the right person yet. Then I felt bad, because I still hope that E. might be the right person and I have met her, she just doesn’t feel that we should be dating right now, which I kind of agree with and kind of don’t agree with. We both really care about each other a lot and message each other a lot (multiple times a day, far more than I message anyone else). But there’s a lot of obstacles to making that a relationship though. I wasn’t going to tell him that I was in an “It’s complicated” situation, though. Frum people aren’t supposed to get into “It’s complicated” situations. He did at least wish that this year would be the year I get married.
My parents asked me again about E. at lunch too. They do that quite a bit, which I’m slightly worried by. Every so often my Dad asks if I’m still in touch with her. I’m not sure whether he realises what the situation is, as I haven’t had the confidence to tell him exactly that we both still really like each other. My Mum knows a bit more. She is worried that I would wait for E. so long that I would miss other opportunities. I understand that, but I don’t feel up to dating other women right now anyway. E. was right that I’m too dysfunctional and (let’s be honest) too poor (I mean financially poor) to think about marriage and family. If I can de-dysfunctionalise myself… well, maybe E. might be interested then and if not, I can think about dating other women, but at the moment I think I need to concentrate on getting myself better.
I feel sad writing this post. It’s brought up so many mixed emotions for me. I really want to reach out to people. I really just want to help people, but I feel that I don’t have anything to offer other than a sympathetic ear and a non-judgemental nature.
And now it’s the last Jewish day of the Jewish year 5778 (Jewish days run sunset to sunset). I already wished everyone here shana tova/good new year earlier in the week, because I wasn’t sure I would have the time or inclination to write again. Still, knowing that a disproportionate number of my readers have difficulties of one kind or another, I hope everyone is written for life, health, prosperity and happiness tomorrow (we believe that everyone gets judged by HaShem on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) regarding whether they will have a good new year, non-Jews as well as Jews). We should all have the joy that comes from knowing and accepting who we are, and having people around us who accept that self-definition and care about us. Shana tova.