Thursday, December 30, 2004

Innocence Lost

For most of us who are from the frum world, throughout our development, there was an implicit trust in the system we were raised in. We believed it to be true, to be good, to be the epitome of righteousness and the path to a truly happy life. But inevitably, at some point in our journey, something happened which altered our perception of our sheltered world, and triggered a reassessment of our society. It may not have been a catalyst for discarding all of our beliefs, but that first encounter had a lasting impression on our views about Yiddishkeit.

For me, it happened when I heard a mussar shmooze (lecture on character improvement). The Rosh Yeshiva had given a most inspiring shmooze on the power of tefila (prayer), how it can change our lives, how it can overturn the worst gezeira, how it can erase the worst aveiros, blah, blah. So moving. So uplifting. At shacharis the next day, I must have really shaken things up in heaven with my prayers. Some time after that, maybe a week or two later, he gave another shmooze, this time on the damaging effects we can have with the improper use of speech (lashon hara, bitul torah, nivul peh, blah, blah). In this shmooze he told us how even the most powerful tefila can be prevented from being answered if the person had corrupted their speech.

Like any typical yeshiva guy I wasn't much of a critical thinker, but for some inexplicable reason I realized that this idea totally contradicted what he said a week ago. Of course I knew that the whole point of these things is just to encourage us to better ourselves, and it doesn’t have to make total sense how he arrives at his conclusions (at least when the conclusion is as self-evident as these were), but I suddenly realized that I can’t really trust anything that a person tells me is from the torah. It suddenly became clear to me that any person who is knowledgeable enough, and has learned enough torah, can probably find a support for any position he wants to present. So if that’s the case, how can I trust anything that is "proven from the Torah"?

It didn’t make me totally stop trusting rabbis or the truth of torah (or even start to question all those things which are supposedly based in torah), and I don’t think any significant changes came as a direct result of this particular epiphany, but from that point on, whenever someone would try to convince me of a particular position by citing some source in a gemara or whatever, I would just tell them the two mussar shmoozes and they’d shut up with their proofs.

It would be a long time before I followed this idea to it's next logical step but it's clear to me that this experience further reinforced the inner distrust that would later reveal itself in my thought.

At what point did the crack in your wall of trust first appear?

13 comments:

Shtreimel said...

For me it was not one point or another. It happened slowly and gradually, but when it arrived it blossomed in its full glorious state it is now.

Frummer????? said...

I don't think I was ever interested.

It all just seemed too opressive, and grumpy

DovBear said...

When I realized that they most of the people are not deep or careful thinkers, and that they were more concerned with their hats and their cars than anything else.

You need to judge Judaism by the Jews, despite what people say.

elf said...

I never thought I'd put this on the internet, but here it is: I had a PMS attack. I used to have really bad ones. I'd burst out crying uncontrollably and have to cut class and go home or spend the rest of the day with the school nurse.

This one came in the middle of a high school Talmud shiur. I don't remember the gemara we were learning, but I think it involved some Aristotelian physics. (Yeah, I know. That really narrows it down.) I couldn't swallow the physics, and as a result, I couldn't swallow the gemara. Normally, I'd suppress the thought and move on, but at this particular moment I was very emotional. I burst into tears and had to go home.

I couldn't stop crying, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. First, the things in the gemara that I couldn't swallow. Then TaNaCH. Then all these fundamental ideas: Jewish particularism, hashgacha pratit, creation by design. I could never go back after that day. I'm not sure why, exactly. Probably something to do with the PMS.

elf said...

I'm obviously not a yeshiva guy, so I guess you weren't asking me. But there you go.

The Hedyot said...

Umm.... Really not sure how to respond to that, Elf, but thanks for sharing it! :)

Rebecca said...

I'm not a yeshiva guy or girl (or even a former yeshiva person), but I have always wondered if people really believe in hashgacha pratit? I have always found it utterly unbelieveable. The Lord of all the worlds is giving me personal instruction through the various accidents of my life? Am I really as important as all that? I would prefer that the divine providence be exercised in saving innocent people from tsunamis or from genocide. I have at times flirted with Orthodoxy, but this is one belief that just stops me cold. At one point in Israel I joined an Orthodox synagogue for a year. What bothered me the most were not the things I knew that I disagreed with, like the role of women (I knew that when I joined, after all). I just couldn't swallow the idea of hashgacha pratit and other theological assumptions that offended my sense of morality or reason.

Anonymous said...

Not all orthodox believe exactly the same thing re hashgocha protis. There are various opinions about it. For example, Hassidim claim that it covers more than others. Rambam and others say that it depends on the level of the person - there is more for a tzaddik than others.

There is more that can be said, but I will leave it at that for now.

Anonymous said...

good site

rivka said...

currently writing (read: procrastinating) a medieval jewish philosophy paper. those medieval guys had a lot of guts-- you don't get people today saying that God doesn't know the future (ralbag!) or that we have no free will at all (crescas), or that hashgacha is NOT pratit, rather some survival skills hard wired into the human race courtesy of God (forget who, maybe rambam).

highly recommended to all kofrim-- you may not agree, but you'll feel less alone, and trust me, it's a good feeling

rivka said...

correction-- rambam doesn't rule out hashgacha pratit, but he makes it contingent on the depth of your intellectual understanding of God. It's a bit rough on good frum Jews who aren't so smart.

Lyss said...

I often had thoughts like that. And asked questions about why my rabbis were contradicting themselves. That's part of what made hs so unpleasant for me.

R V said...

In College I became very interested in History and would've majored in it had $ not been an issue. Anyway, I learn history all the time and have taken several advanced courses in it and done very well. One of the things I learned was the following: Read Genesis; you'll find out that there is no real concept of afterlife. G-d's promised reward to Abraham for following in his ways is the promise that his offspring shall inherit the land. Jacob is afraid of going to Sheol in mourning - Sheol is the Sumerian netherworld where there is no reward or punishment. So it appears some fundamental concepts of Judaism were not known to Abraham, like Gehenom (read: Gei Hinom, translation: Valley of Hinom - sacrificial valley near Jerusalem where Jews burned their infants for the god Moloch), or Gan Eden - I assume you know where this is from. No Heaven, Hell, Moshiach, Thiyat Ha Metim. Yet Zoroastrianism (Persian) which is as old as Judaism had all these concepts. Then suddenly Jews fall under the rule of the Persian empire. Coincidentally the Talmud develops while they are in Persia, and in the talmud all these concepts start popping up. What a coincidence. That was the point at which doubts started to creep into my mind. The slow process began...