Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Making Your Own Utopia

There is a famous chassidic story of a Chabad Chossid that went to the Tzemach Tzedek to ask for permission to move to Israel. The Rebbe replied that rather than moving to Israel, he should "מאך דא ארץ ישראל", make the place where he was living at the time, presumable Russia, into Israel.

This story has been on my mind quite a lot lately.

As the regular readers of my blog know, my current life-situation is somewhat unusual and difficult. Walking tenuously along the fence separating the charedi and secular worlds requires tremendous effort and results in many falls.

When I share my story with others, I often get asked why I stay. In other words, why don't I just jump off on the secular side of the fence and make a run for it? Why do I insist on staying in such a difficult scenario?

They are asking a good question. In fact, I often ask myself the exact same question. I look into the future and wonder how much longer I can  live a double life, how much longer can I remain on this fence without getting worn out? I am not a person who is comfortable with lying, nor am I a good liar, so this scenario is quite difficult for me.

However, at the same time as these thoughts enter my head, I can't help but think:

"מאך דא ארץ ישראל"

While the Tzemach Tzedek obviously did not intend for this phrase to be interpreted in the way that I am about to interpret it, it seems that this concept has a lot of merit for those of us living undercover in the frum world.

It is the tendency of human beings to search for utopia. To sit an imagine that if only one could live somewhere else, live with someone else, live in a different time, or live in a different way, one would be happy. This search for an elusive place where happiness and fulfillment can be achieved have led people on physical and spiritual journeys for centuries.

 Whether the utopia that one imagines is a messianic redemption, retirement on a tropical island, or an escape from a restrictive community, it often has the same effect. Focusing on the thought that life could be better "if only..." prevents one from living life to the fullest now.

Of course, the desire to move away from harmful surroundings can be beneficial. If one actually has the opportunity to improve ones life in a way that the benefits to oneself and others outweighs the cost, then it is self-evident that one should take advantage of the opportunity.

When this is not the case, however, the search for an elusive utopia that cannot be obtained, or at least cannot be obtained without causing significant harm, can be detrimental. While part of me feels ready to jump off the fence, it seems that doing so may well cause more harm than good.

Therefore, I need to find a way to "מאך דא ארץ ישראל".


  1. I wholeheartedly agree - in the end it all comes down to a cost-basis-analysis - do the expected gains outweigh the expected losses.
    I know that sounds cold and calculated and totally un-human, but it's the best we can do.
    And if I may continue your Frum borrowing - Chazal said it well "הוי מחשב שכר עבירה כנגד הפסדה" - we really do need to evaluate which of our actions is most likely to cause us the least pain or the most happiness.
    So I too stay in this life, lying often as needed, knowing full well that the likely outcome of doing otherwise - following what I believe to be the truth and everyone be damned - is likely to be much more painful and not give the results I would want. I find it's not so hard to "speak the speech, and walk the walk" - after all, I've been doing it my whole life, I actually don't even know how to live otherwise.

  2. "Wherever you go, there you are." And, "Home is not a place, it's a state of mind." Love and strength.

  3. Personal question you don't have to answer...

    Aside from religion, how is your relationship with your spouse? I realize lack of shared religious goals leads to some tension, but many couples coexist happily and lovingly despite different beliefs and even sometimes markedly different levels of observance. I wonder if couples experiencing major turmoil over religion may also have other, perhaps unexplored, marital issues.

    If you and your husband have a strong marriage despite religious differences, I would suggest you work hard at staying married, and try to find a way in which you can be true to yourself without sending him over the edge.

  4. It's a question that you have to weigh in your mind. Sometimes you are really torn between two sides, and no choice will make you perfectly happy. Ultimately, you have to do what is best for you and your loved ones.

    Will coming out about not being frum make them unhappy and ruin your marriage? Well, assuming your marriage means a lot to you, don't do it! If you don't care about your marriage (I hope not!) then go ahead and come out.

    It's a question only you can answer. Figure out what's important to you, and then you'll know the answer.

  5. I was so happy to read your latest post. Please, please, strive to keep your family together, unless it's absolutely impossible. Your children will thank you for it, more than anyone can imagine.

  6. "Wherever you go there you are" is not as black and white as some people think.... Yes, we need to learn to live more in the moment, to appreciate the things we have and to make the best out of situations that are beyond our control.... but there are also ethical tenets we need to stick to - if your present situation is harmful or toxic, or if someone you live with or work with or must relate to on a regular basis is abusive or harmful to you in any way, you MUST protect yourself. We must learn to make the best of bad situations, but at the same time we cannot accept injustice or abuse! The desire to move away from harmful things, as you put it, is not only beneficial but is essential for our survival! We cannot allow anyone or anything to threaten our safety or interrupt our serenity. Certainly living in the moment helps us learn exactly what that serenity is - it's not often what we originally think it should be. But living in the now does not mean accepting the status-quo as our "lot" in life. To live in the now we must protect the now. The now is what we make of it, the now is all we have.
    It takes time to figure out exactly what your happiness is. It also takes an enormous amount of courage to refuse to allow that happiness to be threatened. Life is complicated, families are complicated. You are not alone. You are walking in the right direction. Keep feeling it out, keep thinking, keep writing... your search will only lead you to an exaltation in your own self awareness...and to your own version of what it is to be free.