I’m feeling very depressed again.  After disturbing dreams, I got up around midday, but then went back to bed for an hour because I felt so overwhelmed.  I’m trying to break tasks down into little stages to cope with them.  It helped a bit.  Usually I eat breakfast before davening (praying), even though one is supposed to pray first, just because I don’t have the energy to get dressed otherwise, but today I had to have breakfast and lunch first.  I don’t know if I could have done it differently, but it felt a bit like a slippery slope.

I managed a few chores, mostly dealing with work-related emails and bank account stuff.  It’s really a struggle to do anything right now and looking for work seems crazy in this state, although it’s possible that if I can find something that I’m actually capable of doing, the routine and boost to self-esteem may help, so I’m still looking.  I will tell the careers adviser tomorrow that I’m looking primarily for part-time work, which I can’t find in my sector, and ask what other sectors might be worth looking at.  I’m rather nervous about that appointment and feel unprepared, but I don’t have a clue what I should be trying to do right now.  My sister says I should look for a general admin job, but I can’t see myself being able to do that, both in terms of skills and in terms of functioning in an office environment with autism and depression.  My parents’ friend has said she will speak to her teacher friend at the local Jewish primary school about my doing some voluntary work experience as a teaching assistant there next week, so that’s another potential option.

I tried to work on my novel for a while, but I struggled to write.  After a while I could see I was going nowhere and stepped back to brainstorm and plan this chapter in more detail as it’s really not working out.  I could do a bit now, after shiur (religious class), but I feel too tired and need to get up early tomorrow for the careers adviser.

Shiur was good.  I tried not to eat too much junk, but did feel self-conscious.  I did have a couple of moments of thinking “I don’t fit in to this community, their beliefs and practices are too different” but the main point of the shiur was similar to Rabbi Lord Sacks’ parasha essay this week, but coming from a different direction.  I’m not sure the shiur rabbi would appreciate me saying that.

I had an interesting thought at shiur.  This wasn’t quite the point the rabbi was making, but I developed what he said and it seemed to me there are (at least) two types of religious test.  There’s a straightforward temptation: I want to do A but I know I shouldn’t, where A could be eating cheeseburgers, gossiping, texting on Shabbat or anything similar.  I’m tested by my desires.  The second type of tests are existential tests where I’m tested by who I am.  So, in this week’s parasha Avraham, who has based his whole life around kindness as the primary way of serving God, is told to sacrifice his son, which is the opposite of kindness.  In the early modern era, perhaps the big existential tests for religious Jews were around going to university and entering Western culture, as often Jews had to convert to Christianity to go to university or enter the middle class professions.  So if someone identified very strongly as an intellectual that could potentially take them outside Judaism unless they were satisfied purely with religious study within the community.  Nowadays being tested around gender or sexuality issues would probably be the big test where someone could feel something essential about themselves was in conflict with Orthodox Judaism.  There are probably also deeper philosophical challenges, when someone can’t believe in God or the divine authorship of the Torah or whatever.

I guess my struggles with my community are existential challenges in this way.  My conflicts are relatively low-key, as I can accept most of my community’s faith propositions (one God who wrote the Torah etc.), but there are other beliefs that I can’t accept (creationism, taking Midrashim very literally, believing we can send the reward for our deeds to whoever we choose etc.) that I struggle with.  If it wasn’t a big part of my identity, I could handwave it and it wouldn’t bother me.  “You might believe that, but I don’t, let’s change the subject.”  I’m sure there are plenty of people in my position who do that, whether in my shul or similar ones.  But my beliefs and actions are too much a part of me to be able to ignore the conflict without feeling I am betraying a part of myself, so every time something comes up, it feels personal.

For instance, at the start of the shiur, someone said we should ask God to use the merit of our studying in the shiur to heal someone in the community who is seriously ill.  I don’t disagree with the thought behind that, but the idea strikes me as completely ill-thought through.  I see reward as something that you become as much as something God gives you, that you become closer to God.  Even if reward is something tangible, I don’t think you can decide where it goes.  It goes to you, end of story.  It’s not transferable.  But this idea of Heavenly rewards being, in some sense, fungible, that they can be divided, transfered and shared around the community or even between the living and the dead is something that is very common in the Haredi community, even though, as I understand it, it’s a comparatively new idea in most cases (see this essay).  This type of thing throws me out of the shiur, metaphorically speaking.  I want to start lecturing people about this being philosophically flawed and historically questionable.  I don’t do that, but it’s not something I can easily sit through.  It feels like a challenge to me.

3 thoughts on “Existential Angst

  1. It sounds like the straightforward tests are things that are fairly clear in the Torah, while some of the existential issues relate more to human interpretations and beliefs. And if God is fundamentally beyond human understanding, isn’t your personal understanding of God and the world just as valid as anyone else’s? I’m sure it doesn’t work that way in Judaism or any other organized religion for that matter, but it seems to me like it would be a good thing to be able to have a more personal understanding of God within the framework of holy texts.

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    1. I’m not sure I would say that it’s about interpretation. I meant more that I’m expected to behave in a certain way, religiously, in terms of social behaviour like going to shul, and I find it hard to do so. I don’t think I explained very well and possibly it’s not true anyway.

      We are supposed to hsve a personal relationship with God based on experience as well as texts. I find this very hard at the moment, although arguably this is better than being someone who claims to know God well and thinks God agrees with him about everything, conveniently.

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