The first good I gained from the whole experience is:
It made me much more humble.
There’s nothing like realizing you’ve been duped, or that you’ve made some massive errors of judgment, to bring you down a few pegs, and to help you realize that for all your talents and abilities and knowledge, you still can’t do a thing right without God.
Before the wheels came off the ‘religious phoneys’ bus, I was very self-sanctimonious, intolerant and judgmental of other people – especially those people who wanted to earn a decent living and not live in a dump.
How superficial and gashmius they are! I would think to myself.
Then, me and my husband seriously hit the skids for two years, we lost our home, we nearly ran out of cash, and we had weeks where even putting food on the table was a struggle. It was a massive wake-up call that we weren’t Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and couldn’t make do with one outfit every 12 years and a carob for Shabbat lunch.
Now, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to make and have parnassa, and I’m so ‘anti’ all these religious phonies that make orthodox men feel bad, or flawed somehow, for doing an honest day’s work, and looking after their families the way God intended.
It made me much more real.
(I know, that one’s a bit scary).
You know, I absolutely love long jeans skirts. Always have, always will. I decided five years’ ago that jeans skirts were not befitting my level of religious phoniness, and I gave them up.
Now, they’re back – I got one custom-made by someone in the States, exactly how I like it. And I LOVE wearing it! I feel so grateful that God a) gave me the money to buy it b) found me a cheap tailor and c) let it fit so nicely. I feel like a million tznius bucks in my jeans skirt, and it puts me in a good mood just pulling it out of the cupboard.
More and more, I’m accepting those parts of myself that might not be ‘black and white friendly’, but that still have their heart in the right place, and are not contravening any of God’s halachas.
It made me more compassionate (especially about my kids).
The most judgmental, intolerant, critical people are those that feel that they ‘denied’ themselves something they really want, and can’t stand to see other people doing or having those same things.
I used to be so down on kids for not dressing so frum, and for not wearing socks. Now that I’ve eased up on myself, I’m much more tolerant, understanding and forgiving of them – and guess what? Their tznius is better than it’s been for years.
My kids truly were just mirroring my inner dimension back at me. The more I reclaim the parts of that ‘lost self’ that are compatible with yiddishkeit, albeit still not ‘standard’, the less of a big deal my kids are making about keeping mitzvahs.
They’re doing more, and they’re doing it much more happily – and so am I! Accepting myself, my real self, was key to me enjoying my yiddishkeit again, and that’s what my kids are reflecting back to me in spades.
I got my sense of humour back.
There are so many things that you just have to laugh at them, or go mad. When I was being a religious phoney, life got way too serious and ponderous. God has a sense of humour: He wants us to laugh at ourselves, and to not take everything so darned seriously all the time. He’s running the world, not us.
I learned that humility and humour go together – if you can’t laugh at yourself, it’s because you’re taking yourself way too seriously, and that’s coming from arrogance, not holiness.
I like people again.
This one was one of the biggest presents of all: I like people again, even if they don’t keep Shabbat, don’t live in Israel and don’t believe everything I do.
Now I’m admitting, accepting and loving my own imperfections, I’m not challenged or annoyed by other people’s, (or at least, not so much…) which means that I can focus much more on all the tremendous good around me, and in others, instead of getting so caught up in negative judgment calls about the ‘bad’.
I’m much happier.
I got so stuck trying to meet the religious phonies’ impossibly fake level of Torah observance (ie, they like to pretend that they’re in a place they really aren’t, and then make you feel bad that you’re not also at that incredibly high level) – that I was getting very little joy from any of the mitzvahs I was doing.
Now, I don’t take my mitzvahs for granted, and I know that every little thing I do is a present from God, and not an automatic right, or self-created achievement.
I’ve stopped worrying about money.
All my life, I was chasing after the illusion of stability and financial security, as being the answer to all my troubles. We went so low financially last year, that I truly believed I was going to end up in a dumpster. So then I decided, if I’m anyway going to end up in a dumpster, let me buy a nice dress while I still have some cash…and a new PC….and a new duvet set…and a bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume…
Ironically, hitting the skids cured me of my obsession with money. I understand profoundly that as long as God wants me alive, He’s going to pay for me to live. And that ‘living’ doesn’t just mean a roof and food, it also (especially in our generation) means buying myself the clothes and other bits I need to feel like a human being, without feeling guilty that I’m so ‘gashmius’.
There’s probably a lot more to say, but that will do for now.
Let me end with this:
- God wants the heart.
- God wants us to serve Him 100% happily, as us.
- God wants us to be humble enough to accept that try as we might, we are never going to be able to give God perfection – and that’s really OK!
And if you’re not getting these messages reinforced again and again from your religious advisors, dump them pronto, and find someone else who’s more compassionate, more clued-in, and more genuinely like Rav Arush.