Friday, February 14, 2014

What's in a name? (part II) - Dystopia

From time to time, I will be writing about my reasons for choosing "Pesach Sheini" as the name for my blog. The more I have thought about the name, the more I have felt that it chose me and not the other way around. What follows is the second installation. To read the first, click here.

I recently read the children's classic “A Wrinkle in Time” for the first time. Although, I enjoyed the book, there was something bothering me while reading it, that, until this early this morning, as I lay in bed trying to find the quiet and serenity of sleep, I was unable to identify.

A brief synopsis for those who do not know the story

It tells, the story of Meg Murry, a high-school-aged girl who is transported on an adventure through time and space, along with her younger brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin O'Keefe to rescue her father, a gifted scientist, from the evil forces that hold him prisoner on another planet. Meg, is an awkward, but loving girl, troubled by personal insecurities and her concern for her father, who has been missing for over a year.

The three children learn that the universe is threatened by a great evil called the Dark Thing and taking the form of a giant cloud, engulfing the stars around it. Several planets have already succumbed to this evil force, including Camazotz, the planet on which Mr. Murry is imprisoned.

The children are transported to Camazotz a planet with stifling conformity. On Camazotz, all objects, places and people appear exactly alike, because the whole planet must conform to the terrifying rhythmic pulsation of IT, a giant disembodied brain. During their interaction with IT, Charles falls under IT's control. Although unable to save him, they do locate Mr. Murry, and escape just in time before they too lose control

Ultimately, Meg returns to Camzotz and while standing in the presence of IT, realizes that her ability to love Charles is the key to saving him. By concentrating on her love for Charles Wallace, she is able to restore him to his true identity. Meg releases Charles from IT's clutches and travels with him through time and space, landing in her yard on Earth, where her father and Calvin stand waiting. The book ends as the family joyously reunites.

The people on Camzotz are portrayed as horrified and saddened by their conformity. It seems to me, that, in fact, the vast majority of people who conform feel quite comfortable in their unity. It is the Meg Murry's of the world, who are the ones who are uncomfortable, unwilling (or is it unable?) to join the crowd.

I recently wrote about the harrowing and, somewhat paradoxically, rewarding experience of losing and regaining my faith. While I once again feel whole, I feel lonelier than ever as I look at the communities which surround me, communities which once gave me some degree of comfort and nourishment. Like Meg, I have become more comfortable with myself, accepting (embracing?) my strengths and weaknesses, only I have returned to a dystopic world.

As I have gotten back to writing, the reaction has made me feel as if I am playing a twisted game of Twister, with each too distant black and white circle representing a world with which I partially identify. One blog post leads to approbation and agreement from my friends in the traditionalist camp, with the commensurate silence or worse from those friends of mine who identify with the left-wing of Modern Orthodoxy, while the next post leads to the opposite reaction from those very same friends.

There is a somewhat well-known quote “Those who I can talk to I cannot daven with and those with whom I can daven, I cannot talk” (according to Google, it was said by Ernst Simon). For myself, I would add two categories. There are many with whom I can neither engage in meaningful dialogue nor daven. Our views of God and the world are so distant that it is as if we do not speak the same language. For me, the various forms of group think which those in this camp seem to embody, is particularly off-putting, as loyalty to the right “team” trumps all else. To be sure, there are those with whom I feel true connection, including some fellow intellectual Marranos within my local community, but they are too few in number and too spread out throughout the world to be meaningfully called community.

Perhaps, even more troubling, is the fact that communal leaders, both rabbis and others, rather than protesting the debilitating conformity, fail to object, some out of fear, while for others it is because the group-think is the very source of their power. For some, ba'alei teshuva, as well as those like myself who embraced a greater to commitment to Torah, the Orthodox world in which which we find ourselves, leads to a “buyer's remorse”, as the promised commitment to truth and holiness seems like just another promise made by a salesman desperate to make a sale.

Right now, the Dark Thing seems to be winning, as so many people within my world pursue IT, at the expense of more noble goals and callings. Meanwhile, the true Artist, who has created each of us with differences both physical, spiritual and emotional, awaits our return to Him and to ourselves.


  1. Our community has many virtues, but freedom to express nonconformist views is not one of them. Enjoy the snowy walk to shul!

  2. >>Perhaps, even more troubling, is the fact that communal leaders, both rabbis and others, rather than protesting the debilitating conformity, fail to object, some out of fear, while for others it is because the group-think is the very source of their power.

    This paragraph was very resonant with me after reading the commentary to "lech, reid, ki shiches amecha"; Moshe had to descend from his holiness because he was only at that lofty level by virtue of the people who he was leading. Our leaders' status is inextricably tied to the level we deserve, which presents us with a paradoxical effect. This occurred to me a while ago, and I'm still sorting through the implications...

  3. I had a long-time chavrusah, he was a BT while I had come to the yeshivish world in high school from the chasidish. We both often questioned the world we were living in, so many things didn't make sense; the derech halimud withheld more knowledge than it imparted, the idea of daas torah doesn't have precedent and doesn't make any sense etc. etc. I finally freied out while he lives in Lakewood, trying to make some kind of sense of his life.
    Ultimately I think theological beliefs are driven more by personality than anything else.