Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fresh Start: Tishrei

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways that you yourself have altered" - Nelson Mandela

As some of you might know, this month is a busy one for Orthodox Jews. It is also a strange one for the outsider. The Hebrew month of Tishrei is considered to be the start of the new lunar year according to the Jewish calendar. This translates as it being dedicated to asking for forgiveness for all our past digressions.It is used as a fresh start. I take issue with many of the eccentric (read as: weird) customs that are practiced on this month of atonement. But it definitely was a personal Fresh Start.

All people are in constant state of evolution. We are constantly figuring out who we are, where we stand, and what we are doing with our lives. Looking back to the trajectory of my evolution,I find that there are distinct eras, each classified with different characteristics of religious beliefs and attitudes.

For quite some time now I have been analyzing much of the dictates taught to me in school and in my upbringing. I have questioned, wondered, and have often been confused by things I am supposed to do or how I am supposed to act. Questioning leads to answers. Answers have always been given for many of the major questions that can be raised by religious people. In fact, Judaism prides itself for being a religion based on reason. Blind faith is considered to be on a lower spiritual level than intellectualized faith- faith as a result of understanding. I have always appreciated that. Our spiritual ancestors have expounded on, argued about, and vehemently debated each other on so many tenets of our faith. So answers are plentiful. I have heard most of it, and even arrived to some of them through my own deductions. That was one important step of evolution. Asking questions, getting them answered and being satisfied with the answers. In fact some answers still seem sound to me, but they are now the vestigial organs of my attitudes; they once served the purpose, and still are present but useless, they don't do much these days. 

I lived for a long time at that stage, It was my Paleozoic Era so to speak, a long period of rapid  and complex development but most of it destined for mass extinction. I firmly believed and continuously was developing complex and higher level of spiritual thought. I followed the dictum to and above the letter of the law. 

That was to be followed with an era of independence, where I was out of my parents home and on my own. Thinking for myself making my own decisions. Independence has a marvelous effect where one realizes what they are capable of, and what they really believe. It was a painful time and quite a bi-polar one as well. It was a  time where no area of my life was immune to being chewed over, and reanalyzed with a fresh perspective.  I tested the boundaries and questioned things I never thought of questioning. Black and white turned to grey, which turned to psychedelic mush and back to black and white. Answers which seemed sufficient one day, didn't sit right the next.  But even with all these conflicting thoughts competing in my psyche, never was it translated to action. It was mostly just in theory. I very slowly came to the conclusion that I probably don't believe in a god, I recognized the hypocritical aspects in what I have always considered sacred. But that small lingering chance, coupled with many years of indoctrination still kept me afraid of translating thought to action. 

But of course it is impossible to stay completely committed when your cognition and conduct aren't congruent to each other.( I do love alliteration so very much!) I didn't do anything explicitly wrong, but left much room for interpretation. I started hanging out with friends in places deemed questionable by past me, I didn't really check on the "kosher" status of the drinks I ordered at these questionable places and ate things I never would have eaten in the past. The biggest change was in my attitudes as well. The supposed spirituality of the events around me, failed to move me. Most of the time, I found them strange, as if I was an outsider. My Paleozoic perspective was gone. 

Which brings me back to the month of Tishrei. A month where eating a head of ram for good luck, swinging a chicken for atonement, and building huts to live in for a week was observed with my cynical eye. And then a new era was born! On the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, that strangeness reached its pinnacle. I was feeling angry, an emotion I have become very acquainted with in the stage of my evolution. I was angry because I am stuck in a place I don't belong, in a religion I don't understand or agree with, and angry how afraid I was to do anything to change it. I told myself that I am giving this one more chance. I went to the synagogue for the first prayer of this holy day, the prayer called Kol Nidre. I figured that if this occasion, which is considered by many as the highest point of the Jewish calendar can move me at all, I can maybe figure out a way to stay at the point of doubt, of uncertainty. I thought that perhaps the words will evoke the anger, it will give me some revelation of how insane this really is. But my response was quite surprising, and very telling. I sat in shul, holding a book soaked with tears of my past. Tears cried in earnest  from the times when I begged for a good year, when I begged for atonement for any past sins, and to be inscribed in the book of life. I looked at the book, I looked at the crowd, I looked down at the rabbi- a man I do admire, and nothing. I felt nothing at all. No anger, no resentment, no fear. I just felt out of place. I left, walked home, and ate a piece of cake. I desecrated the sacred fast, punishable by death, and once again nothing! I texted some friends, something strictly forbidden on such a holy day, and nothing! It felt ok. Nothing more, it just felt right.

That surprised and even puzzled me. I turned it over in my mind and I realized that I have evolved further than I had imagined. My conscious and thinking self was still wavering but my sub-conscious, my deep intellectual being already rejected it all. It had no misgivings about doing something the old me would shutter about. I have arrived at a new point of my existence.

Sadly this new revelation doesn't change much externally. I still can't leave, still am petrified at what these changes mean for my future. I might not be following the laws of Shabbat, but only under a pillow, with the fear of being caught. I still look the same in this era as I did the last one. But I feel good, I feel calm, the anger is diminished. I am continuing my intellectual pursuits, reading books that continue to shape my views on religion, evolution, culture and the world around me. I feel like I am preparing for the beginning of the next era. A era I do not see yet on the horizon, but if my past is any indication, I think I will be surprised by this one sooner than I think. I hope I survive it.

Never be told.


  1. wonderful and eloquent, hitting close to home... would you mind posting an email address?

  2. This evolution of you is exciting yet fearful, yes? In evolution you can't go backward. I love your eloquent, insightful, and articulate writing. Thank you so much for sharing your views!

  3. I can't help but wonder whether you used all those terms properly, and which of the six geologic periods in the Paleozoic era describes the state of things (they are quite different, you see), and how can an individual evolve? Using biological terms in a literary sense is quite risky, as some might not get the metaphors, and those that are familiar with the terminology would question their relevance::: But of course, i am being too was a great and well articulated read.

    1. Obviously it is a metaphor! I am familiar with the details of the ages, and although I did try to stay true to the analogy, it's poetic license most of the time- and I hope you can handle that ;) I wrote it in a literary manner with a scientific twist. I did not write it as an evolutionary geologist.
      Evolve: Develop gradually, esp. from a simple to a more complex form. So yeah- its not only applicable to natural selection per se!