Before getting into my latest question/difficulty, I would like to give a quick follow-up on my last post, “Trying to Pray”. I wish I could say there was some dramatic change and my prayers are now impassioned and sincere. Unfortunately, were I to say that, I would be lying. What did change is my perspective, thanks to a wonderful story I read. I can’t remember where it was written, or who was involved (maybe someone who remembers these kinds of things will be able to help—I hate telling unattributed stories), but here goes:
A depressed Jew went to his Rebbe and explained his problem—he felt uninspired in his praying and learning, and in fact didn’t enjoy doing either. The Rebbe answered him by saying that he (the Rebbe) was jealous! He himself enjoyed praying and learning so much, that he felt that he wasn’t fully serving Hashem in either, because his own enjoyment meant that he was never praying or learning for Hashem’s sake alone. Meanwhile, the other man had the opportunity to pray and learn only for the sake of heaven, with no personal enjoyment acting as an ulterior motive.
Since reading this story, I’ve been trying to approach my prayers with the attitude of “here is an opportunity to really serve Hashem.” I might find praying difficult, but that just makes my efforts to pray all the more important. In fact, I do feel that I grow more in twenty minutes of prayer (with a lot of effort to focus) than I do in several hours of preparing for Shabbat guests (a mitzva I love to do).
Now for my latest struggle.
As pretty much everyone who follows the news knows, the annual international gay pride parade was scheduled to go through downtown Jerusalem. Which led to all kinds of protests, and counter-protests, and angry editorials on both sides, and in the end, the parade became a more private gathering in a less frequented part of town.
Despite my fervent hopes that I could somehow just ignore the whole issue, I found myself affected. By the constant traffic jams, and the fact that it was always in the news, and more importantly, trying to explain the conflict (justify the behavior of the protestors on both sides) to various family members. However, the main effect (and, probably, the reason that I wanted to avoid the subject in the first place) was being forced to confront my own very mixed feelings about the subject.
I know that the Torah forbids gay relationships, and certainly any attempt to openly flaunt Torah law in the public sphere should be protested. That’s the intellectual side. But emotionally, it’s hard to accept. I grew up in a town where it is very acceptable to be gay. I had gay neighbors, gay teachers, and gay friends, and I never saw anything wrong with their relationships. I was just as happy when two gay neighbors were married as I would have been for anyone else. Now, I have to learn to adjust my thinking to the Torah perspective. Not to become hateful or cruel, of course, but to recognize that this behavior is forbidden, and not a perfectly acceptable alternative to male-female relationships.
When I first came to Israel, about three and a half years ago, I had to undergo a similar change in mindset. I was already technically religious—I kept Shabbat and kashrut and wore mostly modest clothes—but my values and beliefs were still half-and-half. It took hearing a real Torah perspective on certain issues (mostly relating to Eretz Israel and Jewish morality) to shake me up and help me see that while my behavior had begun changing to be in line with Torah, my thinking still had a ways to go. I resolved to work to change my thinking as well as my behavior, until both would be according to Torah.
I found this second round of changes to be more challenging than the first. After all, in order to keep Shabbat, you just have to not do work. It might be difficult or frustrating, but in the end, it’s a simple physical act. Even when I felt like turning on my computer on a Saturday morning, I could just force myself not to. When I found myself thinking something that clearly came from my old perspective and was not in line with Torah values, I couldn’t force a change. I had to be patient and spend a lot of time learning and growing before those thoughts would be replaced by something better.
Overall, I believe that I had some success in becoming religious in thought as well as action. And yet, I have a lot further to go. So, my questions to everyone reading this are: what similar issues did you face (I can’t believe that any BT didn’t find some contradiction between the values they were raised with and the values of the Torah)? What helped you to overcome them? Were you ever downright offended by certain ideas/rules in the Torah, and what (if anything) changed your perspective? Thanks in advance for any and all honest answers.