Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fear - part II

The reaction to “Fear” which I wrote yesterday was extremely heartening. It was overwhelmingly positive. Nearly 100 people “liked” it on Facebook, there were hundreds of comments and five “share”s. I received a number of thoughtful emails as well. I gained a lot of new ideas and even made a few edits to what I wrote.

Even the criticism, with one unfortunate exception, was helpful and correct. The biggest “critique” was that I was vague. Although I was deliberately vague, as I sought to test the waters to see whether my words hit home and to “rally the troops”, so to speak, if I stopped there, much of what could be accomplished would not happen.

So here's where I inevitably lose at least some of you. I say inevitable because what I write is now more specific to me and my life, and there will be some who will say something like “That's all he was saying?”, or something of the kind. Others will think that I don't go far enough, or that my ideas are not practical or realistic. I can not prevent that, nor do I want to. I consider this follow up to be the beginning of a conversation, rather than the final word on the matter.

I'll start with what I am not saying. I am not saying that anything goes in Orthodoxy and that you can strip away what you'd like. I believe that Torah and mitzvot are obligatory. I, like everyone, often fail to live up to these expectations, but I see that as personal weakness, not a new philosophy. I'm also not saying that you should do something foolish like tell your boss what you really think of her, or wear a mini-skirt if you live in New Square. As I often tell my children, there is a difference between realistic and unrealistic fear. While the latter is best eliminated, one should hold onto the former. I'm not suggesting that you move or change communities. I recognize that such advice is useless and a non-starter for most people. I'm not even saying that all such fears shouldn't effect your actions. We all make choices and sometimes the best choice, is far from perfect.

Finally, and this might be the most disappointing thing to many of you, I'm not suggesting we can change the world, or even fix all of our schools, shuls and communities.

So, what am I suggesting?

I'm suggesting that each of us start with ourselves, in a small, doable and realistic way. Don't try and eliminate all of your fears.

Look for one thing you'd like to do differently and work on it.

Seek out like-minded individuals, and rely on each other for support.

Discuss this topic with your children. Explain why it's important to not live in fear.

If necessary and possible, vote with your feet, by changing shuls and/or schools, and vote with your money, by supporting institutions that represent your ideals.

Read something, write something or share something that is outside of your comfort zone. As much as possible avoid writing or posting under a pseudonym or annonymously.

Learn and take the good from other approaches, and apply it to your life, and reject the rest.

When your rabbi or your child's teacher says something that you think is wrong, speak with them about it, and do so respectfully. Even if this is not practical, speak to your family, again respectfully, so they know that you disagree and why you disagree.

If you are single, don't let your fears drive your every decision. The less you live in fear, the happier you'll be. That is an end to itself.

Choose your kid's school carefully. If you send them to a school which does not match your approach, you will have a lot of work to do to keep them balanced. I recognize that there are reasons to send to these type of schools, but understand the risk you are taking.

Choose the school that is best for your child. Not for you, not for your community, but for your child. This might not be the same school for all of your children.

Before making a religious change that involves the external, ask yourself, why you are doing it. If you don't have a good reason, don't do it.

Before accepting religious claims or popular“philosophies”, which make you uncomfortable, do your homework and make sure these beliefs are authentic or are the only acceptable view. Hint- they almost never are. Education makes you brave.

Be very careful with the message you give your daughter about her role in Judaism. Be very careful with the message she is told at school.

More is not always better. Tafasta meruba, lo tafasta.


  1. Every other Sun evening a half-dozen friends and I get together on Google Hangouts and learn some Alei Shur. The section is divided into middos, and each middah into sections. A section is around a page, and at the end R' Wolbe suggests an exercise. A small exercise, incrementing beyond the last one, slowly stretching our capability. The central feature is the exercise, not the learning. We discuss how we did at the opening of the next session, and perhaps if the problems outweigh the advance, we'll decide to simply discuss the isssues and not move forward.

    Between meetings, chavrusos check in with each other daily (or more) to see how it's going. On the skipped Sunday, give or take a day, they review the material together. This way, you don't lose momentum between meetings.

    We call this invention an eVaad, an on-line variant of the ve'adim found in many Lithuanian yeshivos. And it's much like what you're suggesting here. The biggest difference is compromising on personalization for the sake of having the support of a group of va'ad members.

    1. Clarification: When I wrote Lithuanian yeshivos, I mean schools actually in Lithuania. Both those formally within the Mussar Movement, and those simply sympathetic to it, like Mir, Telzh or Grodno. Today's "Lithuanian" yeshivos wouldn't touch this kind of thing, but that's more a subject of the prior post.

  2. This is a great expansion of your ideas, Pesach and I thank you for it. Your suggestions are pretty realistic.

    "Look for one thing you’d like to do differently and work on it," is a perfect place for most of us to start. I will add from experience, it's good to share that "thing" with your family. There is massive value in your children and spouse seeing that you are attempting to change. For myself, when I was deep into Weight Watchers, certain eating habits that I adopted (like eating fruit throughout the day) is something that my kids started doing.