Freedom

Seven days shall you dwell in boothsLeviticus 23:42

… and you shall only be rejoicingDeuteronomy 16:15

Succos is the festival designated as the season of our gladness. Yet the commentaries state that one of the symbolisms of the succah, a temporary hut, is that we dwell in it for seven days to symbolize man’s temporary sojourn on earth for his average life span of seven decades (Psalms 90:10).

Human mortality is a rather sobering thought; it is hardly conducive to rejoicing. Most often we do not think about our mortality, and when circumstances force us to face it, we quickly dismiss it from our minds and go on acting as though we will live forever.

How different Torah values are from secular values! The Torah teaches us that there is an eternal life, a wholly spiritual life, whose bliss is far greater than the human mind can imagine. We are placed on this planet for our ephemeral earthly existence only to give us an opportunity to prepare for the eternal life.

The Torah teaches us to enjoy life, and if it restricts some pleasures, it is because we should enjoy life in a manner that befits a human being. Furthermore, our joy of living should not be diminished by the awareness of our mortality, nor need we deny it. The succah – the symbol of our temporary stay on earth – is beautifully decorated, and we enjoy our festive meals therein. Even our temporary existence can be beautiful and happy, and our faith in the eternal life should enhance that happiness.

Today I shall…

try to enjoy life as befits a spiritual person, knowing that the true life of man is not the fleeting one, but that of eternity.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 15”
Aish.com

Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.

-Will Smith, American actor

I probably take myself too seriously. Sometimes my wife tells me that. I know it’s certainly true of me in my “online persona.” I guess that comes from being a professional writer. Writing is what I do, so it’s important to me. It’s pretty much my first, best expression of who I am. Not that I’m perfect at it of course. But I don’t paint, and I don’t play music, and I’m not that good a public speaker, and I don’t dance worth anything, so I’ve got to have one way of expressing myself that’s better than all the others.

For me, that is writing. I’ve said before that writing this blog has a therapeutic aspect to it. It helps for me to pound out my thoughts and feelings, to “wear my heart on my sleeve,” so to speak. I can better describe how I feel and think about God, Jesus, Christianity, Judaism, and lots of other things when I write. Not that everyone will agree with me, but then, not everybody has to agree with me.

In this season of joy, during Sukkot, I need to be reminded about the difference between what’s real and important and what’s more or less beside the point. A lot of what happens online is beside the point. No, it’s not that I don’t take my writing seriously, and it’s not that I don’t take the people who I interact with online seriously, but beyond a certain point, I have to let things go.

Some people steal joy, as if joy were something you have and they don’t. As if joy were something they’ll never have and they can’t stand that you have some. They steal it, even if they can’t use it themselves, just so you can’t use it, either.

No one can do that to you unless you let them. In real life, it’s harder to combat, especially if the person stealing your joy is important to you, especially if it’s someone you love. While I get hurt by people I love sometimes, no one I love steals my joy. I’d probably let them if they wanted to, because I love them, but they don’t do it because they love me and they know that stealing joy is wrong.

Online, there are no end of people who steal joy. They may not think of it in those terms, but that’s the net result of their interaction with others. It’s easier to try to steal someone else’s joy online because you can’t see them and they can’t see you. You are depersonalized. They can’t see that they’re hurting you, and so, if they have no empathy, compassion, or grace, they don’t have to care if they’re hurting you. They can verbally harangue you, insult you, make fun of you, and feel well justified in doing so, because you aren’t even human to them. You’re just an anonymous “thing” that they can attack and defeat. I guess that’s what it takes to make themselves feel better.

You’d think that it would be easy to let go of someone like that online. All you have to do is pull the plug on whatever communication conduit they use to connect to you. Stop visiting their blog. Ignore or delete their comments on your blog or even block their IP address. But it’s not that easy. It’s like slamming the door in someone’s face. Even when they’re hostile, and even when they’re abusive, if you’re a decent human being, it still feels rude to (metaphorically) slam the door in their face.

Most hostile and abusive people are usually victims of some kind. Most bullies and trolls online have a history of being bullied themselves. I guess that’s why I put up with some folks as long as I do. I realize that even when they’re in your face, making demands of you, telling you what to do, that it’s really their defense against how hurt they are inside. They’ve never dealt with their pain and never resolved their conflicts. The only way they know how to live inside their own skin is to project all of their “stuff” onto others.

So I was dumb, and I was foolish. I (mentally) cut someone loose but let them back in because I thought maybe there was hope that, though we’d always disagree, we could disagree with a sense of mutual respect. I was taking a risk, but you have to do that sometimes. Sometimes it’s worth it. This time it wasn’t.

You can’t really hate a victim because in many ways, they just can’t help themselves. In order to feel powerful, they have to be hostile. These sorts of people, especially guys, mistake anger and aggressiveness for power, not realizing that true power isn’t hostile or aggressive at all. True power is love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, graciousness, and tenderness. Some people think the only power is intelligence, education, superiority, winning the argument, devastating twists of irrefutable logic, how well they halalachally perform a mitzvot. That’s the stuff they push in your face to show you that they’re not a victim, that they’re “winning,” that they’re better than you. Then they can feel better about themselves.

But they’ve missed the point. Paul was extremely clear about which gifts are more important. In fact, there’s one gift, one attribute that we can all possess and exercise if we choose to, that trumps all the rest.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV)

Really. Read that again. What is Paul saying? He’s not saying that “winning” in some Charlie Sheen fashion is the whole point. He’s saying that, even if you’re fabulous in speaking tongues, are an amazing prophet, even if you have faith that literally can move mountains, but you don’t have love, you have nothing.

GardeningLove is like a small, fragile, budding plant you nurture inside of you. If you don’t take care of it, the love will wither, and you will wither along with it. Love takes a lot of special attention but if you don’t care for the love inside of you, you’ll never be able to show it to others, especially those who really need to be loved. It almost seems paradoxical to say that in order to preserve your love, there are some people you have to let go. But those are the people who suck joy directly from your soul, murdering your love, blackening your heart, and damaging, not only you, but everyone around you who needs and depends on you.

Author C. JoyBell C. said, “You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” Sometimes toxic people are the weights that hold us down. And even if it feels like giving up on another human being, it’s better to let go of the weight so that you can rebound and fly, than to keep hanging onto it and letting it; letting that person drag you down into hostility, hopelessness, and despair along with them.

I hope and pray that my “toxic person” finds his way and learns to let go of his own unneeded weights, but he’ll have to learn love, the kind of love Paul was talking about, first. That’s something you can’t teach someone, especially against their will and especially if they equate humility, compassion, forgiveness, and love with being humiliated and being weak.

This is the season of joy. This is the time to rediscover love, love of your fellow person and love of God. To soar up to the source of our flame, we have to unburden ourselves sometimes. In order to fly, you have to break free from the people and things that hold you down.

“Woe to him who does not feel that this life and the next are but one!”

-Nikos Kazantzakis from his novel
“Zorba the Greek”

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4 thoughts on “Freedom”

  1. James, Thanks again for the Insight… It gives me a lot to think about… One thing I’m wondering however is what if the person that needs to be let go is extended family?

  2. It depends on how extended and how your non-extended family feels about them. I know that my wife has “cut loose” a cousin she’s not particularly fond of, even though he still periodically calls and tries to reconnect. Not sure what her issue is with him (I asked once but she declined to discuss it) but she definitely put him aside.

    I’ve got a brother-in-law who otherwise is a nice guy, but who has “issues” with Jews, primarily because of his Christian faith, that I don’t talk to very often (I find this incredibly ironic since he’s my wife’s brother and thus, he’s halachically Jewish). In his case, it helps that his wife is very focused on having their family associate only with her extended family and not with his.

    I don’t really have any truly “toxic” relations by blood or by marriage (currently…the first two husbands of my sister-in-law were drunks and bullies and I had to get in their faces a couple of times…her third husband is wonderful, so all is well), so I guess I’m lucky that way. If I did, I suppose I’d have to find ways to avoid them or at least tolerate them.

  3. Thanks for the response! I just finished reading Vain Hopes… When I wrote my first comment I totally didn’t realize your current situation… I do hope my initial comment didn’t come off as me mocking you. That wasn’t my intention. Though our situations are universes apart there is a common thread, a road block of sorts that I’m finding myself facing. Your faith amazes me – in this current context… an example I rarely witness in social circles I find myself in. I personally don’t feel like I have anything to bring to the table as far as your situation is concerned, however given the common thread of my situation at some level I can cry out in anguish with you. Luke 12:49-53 has long been a set of verses that I have reflected and meditated on due to relationships I feel obligated to maintain but maintaining these relationships seem to becoming harder and harder to do. By Oct. 1st I hadn’t read your blog for many weeks but on Oct. 1st an incident with a colleague at work brought me back to that set of verses. I personally don’t believe this is coincidence, you have given me a great deal to think about and possibly even a platform for returning again to my previous faith in G-d. Sincerely and Respectfully…

  4. You’re fine, Rj. Didn’t take offense at all. If I’ve helped you in any way with my writing, then I’m very glad. Baruch Hashem.

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