Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My Own Deceit

I wanted to like him. He had a warm, bearded and soft grandfatherly face. He was friendly, on the ball and excited about life.

Waiting for the group meal to begin, I was sitting on the couch reading "Towards a Meaningful Life" yet again. His British accent caught my attention. Apparently he was a popular Rabbi. A small crowd of youngsters he seemed to know were gathered around him listening to his jokes, his stories - enamored with his presence.

He piqued my curiosity. I too was enamored. A respectable, well dressed and dignified Rabbi with a down-to-earth and youthful presence. I found myself staring blankly at my book, more intrigued with what he was imparting to the young kids standing around him. He seemed the type of Rabbi who had something to say.

And oh, did he ever...

Time suddenly halted, and there's only one thing I can remember. One of the kids asked him casually, "Where's Sarah? Have you seen her?" and my dignified subject of intrigue and respect responded, "I think I saw her upstairs. But be careful, she might be in her bikini."

My body froze in surprise, but my eyes uncontrollably shot a harsh quick glance in his direction. I didn't expect such crude, immature and thoughtless "humor" to leave his lips. What the...? Why?

Apparently, I've become comfortable with stereotyping, and assumed the black hat and beard represented a type of person who couldn't possibly have such a loose tongue.

My intrigue in him disintegrated completely. I felt disappointed. I sat there on the couch spitting out judgments and feeling anger towards the Rabbi's misleading persona. He was now "the bikini rabbi" to me. I wanted him out of the building, away from the youth, my friends. He clearly had nothing to offer us here, with his two-sided makeshift existence.

I pretended to not be sensitive to the stereotype-jolt and was asked to take a seat for the meal. Unexplainably affected by the little scenario, I was just calming down when another Rabbi stood up to introduce our guest speaker. The mysterious man was introduced like a "Tzaddik in our midst", and we are "very fortunate to have him with us."

I nearly choked on my food when the "Mr. Prestigious" introduced was revealed to be none other than the Bikini Rabbi.

What? This guy? Nuh uh. This is not happening.

I had witnessed something about this Rabbi that no one else had, and there he stood amongst the applause - ready to trick everyone.

All I could do was glare at him. Who did he think he was talking about the Torah portion with the same mouth he used for an insensitive and vulgar comment only moments before? Everyone was being betrayed, and I was stirring in my seat, totally disturbed. I felt a faker among us, and found myself totally distrusting everything he was saying. "Such hypocrisy doesn't deserve my attention," I thought to myself.

So there I sat - even long after he was finished speaking - with contempt and judgment boiling inside me.


Having this occurrence sitting in my mind for days now, I have found the insight to feel totally embarrassed from my reaction. It hurts me to come to terms with who I was in this situation. I feel disgusted with myself for having such righteousness in the face of a fellow Jew.

Do I dare pride myself on being a whole and ever-consistent human? Am I so blind to my own faults that I shake at the weaknesses in others? Why don't I ever view my own inconsistencies with similar fervor, and avoid all my virtues in light of my faults? How do I live without combusting from my own hypocrisy? How dare I easily give myself credit but break at one sighting of a Rabbi's immature comment? And who am I to even notice? Who am I to be the counter of another's deeds and consistency? Who did I think I was to discredit the Rabbi's words of Torah? Who was I to feel betrayed? Where was my right to react?

Have I ever been this unfair to myself? And most of all, has G-d?
How does G-d stand for it? I can use my mouth for lying and talking idly about others, and G-d still accepts my prayers. G-d sees my stumble and struggle and crash and burn - but his love for me remains boundless and clear and ever-present. G-d comes running to my side when defeat is in my future, and he can ignore my failures when he sees me succeed.

How did I forget G-d's kindness to me? How did it not penetrate and maneuver my reaction to my fellow Jew?

I don't think any of us profess to be whole. When we realize and speak of our own smallness, our weaknesses, we need to remember that part of this realization is brought to fruition with depth and truth only by the way we relate to others. Who was I to expect such unfaltering perfection from others when I myself know the ride, the ups and downs, of growth and existence? How can I come to appreciate G-d's kindness in dealing with me when I myself am judging others?

We have enough barriers in this world. Refusing to contribute to the blockages is one area I can value consistency with fervor.

I feel pathetic and sorry for my reaction to the Rabbi, but have renewed a determination to unwind the trend. It opened me up to a meaningful challenge - to not only view others as I view myself, but as G-d sees us all.


Mimi said...

I am an imposter when I see it in others and judge, hold the grudge, spit fire in rage - I'm locked into my cage. Only I can let me out, but I shout and shout and shout. The release is in the doubt, of my own small strength, I must go the length in extending my mind. It's not that hard to find, I got to unwind, see G-d's gift, the way he sees me, gotta see, gotta see. It's gonna lift me out, let me extend and bend, shift the power to my peer, whisper in her ear - you are G-d's. I want to see you from his view, yes you - I gotta shift my position and listen to the inside, open wide - boundless love in us must reside. In each other's hearts we must flow, till water there is none -this aint done. Get ready, steady now - run!

Dov said...

You been flowing with Sa'ad alot? I swear, I'd think it was him rapping those words. :)

Thanks for the continued Light.

Saad said...

I'm loving it, Mim. All of it.

Thanks for the Light, yes, but also for the Cobblestone.

Anonymous said...

After the first segment of the blog I immediately thought to myself, "whoa there mim". and here's why:the comment made by that Rabbi was inappropiate and probably does reflect some kind of deeper flaw. but it also is simply a reflection that he is human. a lewd comment does not label someone a kofer whose torah should be discredited. do you honestly beleive that all of the gedolim of our time and the past never erred? there are stories in the gemarah, in navi about the flaws of our ancestors. the gedolim and neviim themselves proclaim their flaws and wave them around as warning flags for us to see and be cautioned by. a man is always a man. moshe came the closest to human perfection and even he was overcome by an emotion and erred severely. My point is, is that we cannot discount the Torah, the ideas of men bec we got a glimpsed of their humanity. We should take an idea for what it is and using our minds, our greatest tool, analyze it and decide if it is indeed beautful. I think it is a dangerous thing when we start to put more importance on who says the idea rather that what the idea is. On the flipside, we should not be swayed by just a person's vibrant personality, as you were at first. bec it might very well be that we are fooling ourselves and, once again, only paying heed to the person and not the ideas they impart.As you experienced, people may seem warm, vibrant, full of radiating energy. But that may be just a product of their psyche and not an underlying holy glow. We shouldn't be too hasty too discredit ppl or too accredit them- we are all just human.

Nemo said...

Right on you, for the second half atleast. Not to be judgemental.

Oh, and the first half-- Yet another reason I wouldn't want to be a Rabbi, hehe.

You reminded me of an incident that I once had with one of the great Rosh Yeshivas of Yerushalayim {I feel so 'Shtark' saying that}. This man could have been "greater" had he not jumped ship and become Lubavitch. I had always had a casual relationship with him, but only because I wasn't exactly in Israel to learn. I didn't agree with some of the ways he ran Yeshiva, but nonetheless I respected his Torah and genius.

One time, in the middle of the day {when I should have been learning}, I walked out of the bathroom in my boxers, holding a roll of toilet paper and a novel. I walk into the hall, and sure enough, there's the Rosh Yeshiva. Needless to say I was embarassed. He looked at me and gave me one of his smiles {you gotta know his personality}. Then, instead of giving me guilt, he points to the toilet paper and tells me a bathroom joke! I was shocked! The Rosh Yeshiva is telling me a bathroom joke!

I didn't have the same reaction as you though. My reaction was, "what a loser". This guy is a Rosh Yeshiva and he's telling stupid bathroom jokes. He could throw me out of his Yeshiva now, but he just kids around about the bathroom! He didn't even ask me to come back to learning. What a loser! No more respect!

I eventually regained respect for him though. I think that this wasn't because he was happy to see me, but because he had love for me. If he would have gotten angry at me, he knows I would have taken the next bus to Tel Aviv. In this little bit of immaturity, he Mekareved me a bit to his warmth.

Hypocritical Desires said...

Mimi - From the way you write, I think I'm safe to say you had no prior association with this particular rabbi, no prior experience with the way he deals with people. You say young people were drawn to him, you yourself were even initially extremely captivated by him. Others introduce him as "Tzaddik."

People are human. People can make mistakes. One mistake does not destroy the good a person can do. And who says it was a mistake anyway? Who knows how many young people are happy to find a Rabbi they can relate to. One who will speak about subjects that are normally thought of to be taboo among the religious. A bikini. By no means clean, yet by no means dirty. It's in the grey area. Maybe this was a calculated decision on his part? Maybe the fact that he can reach into their world, yet stay above it, is what intrigues the young people so much...

Anonymous - I agree with you

Nemo - The Rambam says to take the middle path. Just because a Rabbi makes a bathroom joke you think hes a loser? What he did obviously worked in the long run... Stay on the middle road, don't jump to extremes... (Mimi, you could probably take that to heart also...:))

Anonymous said...

You are a true Lubavitcher. I'm amazed at how you can be so honest with yourself. It's so hard not to judge. I found myself in a similar situtation a few weeks ago and your article really hit home. Thank You.

FrumGirl said...

Wow, Mimi you have a way with your writing... I was swept up in it.

I was going to say... perhaps he was only warning the boy that the girl might be undressed if he went upstairs - maybe it was a tznius thing?

the sabra said...

Add me to the list of those who didn't think what the rabbi said, was so terrible. (granted, that is not the point of your post, yet..)
I don't think that he erred because he was human. I think he was being 'human' so he can catch others before they err.

i appreciate ur writing

wandering said...

i have found it is helpful for me to switch my mindset a little when it concerns ppl who are 'hypocritical'. my immediate gut reaction is to think- why are they acting so holy when they've got all this 'other stuff' hidden inside? In the light of Chassidus however it looks totally different- why are they saying something inappropriate when they are truly spiritual people with the piece of G-d within them? Their mistake is the exception, not who they are.

Mimi said...

Saad and Dov - thanks for the support, me bruthas.

Anynoymous #1: It's interesting how you focused so much on the first half of the piece, almost ignoring my final - and more important - point. The first half of the piece was only to build up to my later realization. I did not mean for it to be a analysis of the "people are human" issue. That's not the point. My point was that I shouldn't have even ENTERED into such a debate - who am I to even think I can entitle people to their humanity?

Nemo: I remember thinking that the Rabbi probably has a "mekareving" affect on the young people around him because of his casual and "hip" nature. But how can something, a comment like that, serve to bring people close to the Judaism when the very comment goes against Judaism's underlying principles? Judgment aside - they are being misled...are they not?
I appreciate you sharing your story. There's a realness in that sort of situation that most certainly speaks to something in us. However, I don't think it's comparable to an outwardly immodest comment. But, again, my point wasn't to focus on the comment!

Hypocritical Desires:
"Maybe the fact that he can reach into their world, yet stay above it, is what intrigues the young people so much..."

Reaching into their world with the bikini comment? That's their world? Although I know what you're trying to get at, I think these kids would be insulted by what you're implying.

I will agree, though, that sometimes this does seem to be the way it works. Unfortunately so.

Anonymous #2: Thank you for letting the piece "hit home." And thanks for telling me. I'll let you know when I REALLY become a true Lubavitcher.

Frumgirl: A wise person I know just told me, "Tznius is not a
topic or even a set of rules regarding covering skin, but rather it's a holistic, internal/external way of thinking, speaking, doing. It's
the way a person does these things, its the tone."

I hope I can continue to keep you swept up! Thanks.


Wandering: You are RIGHT ON. One of the very lame things about my reaction is that I saw his dignified and holy stature to be misleading. But the truth is, it was the comment that was hypocritical and strayed from his essence. I should have heard the Torah he was speaking and thrown out the bikini comment, but I instinctively did it the other way around. A grave mistake indeed. THANK YOU.

the sabra said...

...and she stood there, trembling and speechless in the face of the sabra...

Mimi said...

Sabra! I must have thought I needed to get back to yours, but...never did. Sorry about that!

I don't really want to re-enter the debate about the actual content of the Rabbi's comment - as you said, that wasn't the point.

However... :)

What's this idea about being human to catch the errors of others?

Thanks for staying in tune with my blog, Sabra. And with YOUR writing - right back atcha!

Hadassah said...

Mimi!!!! Wow, dude. Totally intense. I don't really know what else to say... Man. I wish that I was back in Israel with you. In two weeks! Man, again, AMAZING. Keep it up! LOVE YOOOOU!!!

YS said...

Like I said before, you are a super-thoughtful person and I enjoy hearing your take on life. I thought your message in this post was spot on. I think that you didn't tell enough of the contex for us to judge if the comment was inoccuous or lewd. But as you responded to Hypocritical Desires and Frumgirl, the comment wasn't the point. The point was your train of thought. Once again, well thought.

the sabra said...

mimi-he was showing people (yo im not so much discussing HIM and ur story anymore, im talking in general-) that he is normal. he is human. he is a jew. he is a rabbi. he lives in the world. he is not an old fashioned ancient freak. you can trust me. i know what you know. i understand what you are going through.

makes any sense to you? if it doesn't its cuz i miss israel.