Sunday, October 30, 2011

To Your Own Self Be True--Or Maybe Not?

? אם אין אני לי, מי לי
? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני
? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי
"If I am not for myself, who is for me? 
And if I am only for myself, what am I? 
And if not now, when?" (Avos 1:14, translation from

These famous words of Rabbi Hillel have been going through my head quite frequently. They seem so wise and so obvious, yet so hard to fulfill in practice. 

If I am not for myself, who is for me? 

When I tell people my story, I often get the response "How can you live this way? You have to be true to yourself".

I see their point. Living a double life is hard--very hard. I feel awkward in the frum world, like I am pretending to be someone whom I am not. I feel like a hypocrite when I tell my children that they may not play with a muktzah toy on shabbos--then go into my room, lock the door, and use the internet. I hate having to lie to my children to hide my aveiros, and having to explain everything to the rest of the world.

I can't help but wonder what it would be like to live life honestly--on my terms. I could be myself without needing to hide anything. Avoid the hassles of observance, the fights with my husband over religious issues, and the lies.


And if I am only for myself, what am I?

My decisions affect others. 

Throughout my life, I have consistently been labeled as selfish. While I try to be a good person, I have never been the type to go out of my way to do chessed projects. I am terrible at cleaning and am therefore constantly called selfish for not doing my "fair share". (This is despite of the fact that I do far more than my fair share of things that I am good at. When I work on group projects at the school, the other people often end up being the group while I do the project).  

To an extent they are right. When describing myself, "selfless" is not the word that would come to mind. Especially in the midst of this crisis, I find that I spend way too much time considering my own needs over those of my children and husband.

As I know that I have this fault, I realize that I need to try to rectify it by focusing on the needs of others. And I just can't justify breaking up my family in order to avoid feeling like a hypocrite. What kind of person would that make me?

On the other hand, I wonder if staying in this environment is in fact hurting my children. When the very act of telling my children that the petrified log in front of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is 200 million years old sparks a huge argument, maybe staying in this environment isn't the best thing for the kids. 

Or maybe I can find a balance, a way to live my life, educate my children, and maintain shalom bayis. How? I don't know.

And if not now, when?

Who knows?


  1. Good luck, Fence.
    As we're more-or-less in the same boat, I know very well of what you speak...I just take it day by day.

  2. There is definitely a balancing act that has to be done in these kinds of situations. Ultimately, if and when you come to a place where you a comfortable accepting the potential negative consequences of letting the truth of what you believe come out in the open, you should not feel that it is your fault for coming to these conclusions. You are just using the mind you have and living in a world that were placed in.

    I wish you all the best.

  3. Wow, what an introspective post. I am planning to write on a similar topic, but it is taking me a long time to gather my thoughts. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. I feel as if I have some balance.

    My husband knows of my beliefs (or lack thereof); he isn't thrilled about it, but he accepts it and he accepts me.

    My older kids know some of this too.

    I intend to tell my younger kids when they get older that I don't take the Torah literally, but we have customs we observe because of our ancestry.

    I don't ask my kids to do what I'm not prepared to do, so I fast on all the fast days - because it's important to my husband that the kids fast. On the other hand, I wouldn't scold a child for picking up muktzeh, even if it is important to my husband - I'd ignore it.

    I think your husband should be willing to meet you partway. If he's not, you're in a very tough situation.

  5. I've only recently decided that I'm not a "believer" after all, so having to pretend still rubs me the wrong way. I hate having to lie to hide my real thoughts and feelings on anything this important.
    I totally understand about keeping things a secret for the sake of the family. My husband doesn't know about my lack of beliefs at all, though. He himself is not the strictest Ortho Jew; in fact, he is kind of a minimalist. But he condemns anyone who doesn't believe as he does, and that would include me.

    My children I haven't told, because they can't keep secrets, and because everything about the environment around them is in opposition to my lack of beliefs. We live in a religious town, they go to a religious school... In Israel, even "arsim" (Middle Eastern guidos or rednecks) believe in God, and atheists are usually associated with the far left.

    We don't teach our children to deny science, but somehow, all science is taught from the POV of Torah.

    I'm with the above commenters on this one: good luck in whatever you decide. In any case, I'll probably have a pretty good idea of how you feel.

  6. Define "true".

    As parents, we can all sometimes make decisions that take into account our children's needs instead of just our own. You don't share the details of your intimate life with your children, for example, and you don't always let them know when you are scared or angry and frustrated.

    As I said to you before, though, you need to own your decisions, instead of feeling bullied into them, or doing the passive-aggressive thing of going along with them on the surface but then resenting your husband.

    In other words - I don't think that the real issue is you choosing not to do certain things in front of your children because you are raising them religious. The issue is that you are going along with raising them religious in part out of fear, when you aren't completely sure about this decision.