In which I try to use religious ideas to support myself, but end up self-loathing again.
Today I am alternating between feeling wicked and incompetent.
I woke up early, at least for a Sunday and considering I went to bed so late last night. For some reason when I woke up this morning I started thinking about a Midrash (ancient rabbinic expansion of the biblical story to interpret or explain it). It runs like this (translation pasted with slight amendments from here; I don’t have the original):
“HaShem [God] tests tzaddikim [the righteous] whereas His soul despises those who are wicked and who love corruption.” (Tehillim/Psalms 11:5)
“1) Rabbi Yonatan explains: a potter checking his pots (by tapping on their surface) doesn’t check faulty pots that would shatter after one tap, rather he checks strong pots that can survive even a number of knocks without shattering. So Hashem doesn’t test resha’im (wicked people) but tzaddikim (righteous people).
2) Rabbi Yosi ben Channina explains: When a flax dealer knows that his flax is superior, the more he beats it the more it thickens, whereas if his flax is inferior one beating causes it to split.
3) Rabbi Elazar explains: This is like a farmer who has two cows, one strong and one weak. To which does he attach the yoke, surely to the stronger one?”
– Bereishit Rabbah 32:3 and repeated with variations in 55:2
Three rabbis bring three different parables to explain why good people suffer in this world rather than wicked people. In none of the parables does God benefit from the test, as He is perfect. In the first case, the potter hits his pots to show their strength to potential buyers, so he only hits the ones he knows won’t break. This sees suffering as a way of demonstrating the strength of the person suffering to the world: God afflicts the righteous so other observers will see their strength of character in adversity.
In the second case, the flax dealer beats his good quality flax to improve it, but he doesn’t beat the inferior flat because it will have the opposite effect and make it worse quality. From this point of view, suffering is to improve the person suffering. God afflicts the righteous so that they will grow spiritual through their suffering and become better people as a result.
In the third parable, the farmer has a job that needs doing. The suffering – the cow pulling the yoke – doesn’t actually benefit the person suffering either directly (parable two) or indirectly (parable one, where suffering made the virtues of the righteous obvious to the world whereas previously they were hidden and known only to HaShem). It’s just something that needs doing. From this point of view, God needs some suffering in this world as part of His plan for it; the reasons why aren’t dealt with in this parable. It doesn’t directly benefit the righteous; God just knows that the wicked won’t be able to cope with it, but the righteous will, so of necessity He tests the righteous, not the wicked (and presumably rewards the righteous later although that isn’t stated here – see the discussion of “the sufferings of love” in Talmud Brachot which arguably deals with this issue).
I tried to apply some of this to me, but nothing seems to stick. I don’t feel that depression and loneliness is making me stronger. The opposite, really. Maybe for a while it was making me stronger, but now I think it’s really holding me back. Certainly most of my worst sins happen because of the depression, not despite it. I don’t think it’s demonstrating my worth to others, because I hide my suffering and depression from most people and, anyway, I don’t know that there’s much to demonstrate. And I don’t feel that I’m doing useful work ‘ploughing’ for God. I don’t know.
I shouldn’t even say any of this. I’m so wicked and evil, it isn’t surprising that I suffer. Really everyone should hate me, but I hide my wickedness and trick people into liking me.
I wanted to write about why I hate myself so much and think I’m such a bad person, but I can’t bring myself to write about the thing I hate most about myself, the negative behaviour and acting out. I wrote a bit yesterday, but then went back and deleted because I was too ashamed. I don’t think I deserve to have friends and readers, but having got them, I’m scared of losing them.
What I will say is that I feel guilty that I have strong likes and dislikes about people. Some people I just don’t like. I don’t think I show that, but I feel bad about even feeling it. Sometimes I feel like I’m judging people and although I try hard to see the best in people and find excuses for their bad behaviour, I feel bad that I have to do that consciously and not automatically. Also, I don’t speak lashon hara (gossip, broadly speaking, although it’s a somewhat wider term than that) much, but I feel I shouldn’t speak it at all and I can feel guilty about that even for years afterwards. I’m too short-tempered and sarcastic with my parents and sometimes in my head I say terrible things about people who annoy me. I don’t meet my religious obligations as an Orthodox Jew: I don’t daven (pray) when I should or with a community or with concentration, I don’t do enough Torah study and there’s the fact I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)… I’ve been going to Talmud shiur (class) at my shul (synagogue) for six months now, but I don’t understand it. I would drop out, except that I’d be embarrassed to be the only one to do so.
And then there’s the one big, terrible, inexcusable thing that I can’t get around and which makes me feel everyone would be better off without me, that I’m such a liar and a hypocrite for doing this and trying to make people think I’m a good person and I don’t deserve to have friends and a community. But I do want those things, so I’m keeping it quiet.
From wickedness to incompetence: I’ve been recording my budget/expenditure a particular way since I started university (eighteen years) and it’s worked fine, but in the last few months I’ve had a big discrepancy between what is actually in my bank account according to my statement and what my own records show and I can’t trace the discrepancy, no matter how hard I try. The discrepancy was a surplus, but today turned into a deficit i.e. the surplus was being eroded and it seems to be self-correcting, as I suspected it would at some point. I haven’t lost money and I’ve probably just missed something somewhere, but this does not help my feelings of being an idiot or at least not an adult. I probably ought to run my bank accounts another way, but I’m not sure what would be easiest. I used to be good at maths at school, but since leaving I’ve struggled with it and get vaguely panicked and confused by complicated calculations and big numbers, which is a self-confidence issue as much as anything: I can do mental arithmetic, but I don’t trust myself to do it correctly and double check myself. It doesn’t help that my Dad is always getting me to open new savings accounts with different interest rates, which just confuses me (the current problem started when I opened one such account and I’m sure they’re related).
I shook at the barber again. He noticed and asked if I was OK. This also adds to the incompetent feeling, even though I know it’s just social anxiety and Not My Fault. It also turns out I don’t just cry at work or when doing hitbodedut meditation, as I started crying at home while davening (praying). I try not to beat myself up about that, as I think crying is healthy (even if crying in an open plan office probably isn’t), but it’s just another sign of the bad state I’m in. My sister phoned to see how I am doing and asked if I’d found a new job yet for when my current contract ends in six weeks; I couldn’t tell her I’m just terrified and think I’m not actually capable of holding down a ‘proper’ job. I honestly don’t know what to do about work, as I really don’t feel capable of working, but I know I will get even worse if I drop out of the labour market again and I know I won’t qualify for benefits.