Growing up, I always enjoyed the cultural, and communal aspects of Judaism, but I was never really able to connect to the spiritual side of it. I liked singing prayers at Kabalat Shabbat, and I loved learning and discussing the stories of all the holidays, but I could never attach personal significance to them. I went along with it, but I was never very strong in religion. At about four or five months into the army, I really began struggling with my religious identity. I began questioning my belief system, and even more, why I was practicing the way that was when it didn’t match with my internal beliefs at all. I reached a point where my religious tolerance was sitting at zero, or maybe hovering just above there. I wasn’t keeping Shabbat, and I stopped going to Kabalat Shabbat on Friday nights. I stopped wearing a Kippah, and I wasn’t waiting between eating meat and milk. I even began to ostracize myself from the religious community around me. This was going on for several months, and I began to feel increasingly lonely, and insecure in my identity. I didn’t feel comfortable hanging out with my religious friends, because I wasn’t like them, and I was too uncomfortable hanging out with my not religious friends because I hadn’t grown up doing the things that they do, and I didn’t know or recognize their lifestyle. I was so uncomfortable with my identity that I began to isolate myself from new relationships, and distance myself from existing ones. This was especially hard in the army as my team had reached a very intense period of training where stressful factors were intentionally added in order to push us closer to our limits. Unfortunately for me, I actually reached my emotional limit, which led me to quit the training for the unit that I had worked very hard to get accepted into in the first place, and leave my team behind. I was hoping that this would be the answer, that without the stress in my life from the training, I would be able to get my life in order. As you can probably imagine, my identity crisis continued on after I left my team, and my turning point only came a couple months later in a conversation with my close friend Ohad. We were talking about the concept of Rock Bottom, and how it is actually a very lucky place to reach. It sounds weird, but if you think about it, once you reach rock bottom, you can’t fall any further. Psychiatrist David Burns talks about depression as not an emotional disorder, but a thinking disorder. He says if you can fix the way you are thinking, you can also fix the way that you are feeling. I was desperate for an identity, so that evening, in the middle of my conversation with Ohad, I made this conscious decision,
“This is me hitting rock-bottom, I refuse to fall any further than this.”
I fixed the way I was thinking, and began to think in a much more constructive and solution oriented way. I started looking for different ways that I could allow religion to play a comfortable role in my life, without having to be a dominating force.
Growing up, and especially in Yeshiva, I would often hear phrases like, “Judaism isn’t a pick and choose religion, there are laws and you have to follow them all.” Well who says you have to follow that law? I’m still searching for the perfect balance of practice in my life, but religion is a personal lifestyle choice, and if it isn’t working for you, then it’s probably time to change something. I know that the status quo, the way I always have been doesn’t work for me. I know that I don’t want to be on either extreme, but somewhere in the middle, is where I will find my comfortable place.
D is for Deviation
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