So I should be thrilled, not frustrated.
But at the end of the day, we are only human and quite firmly enmeshed in this all-too-real illusion called Olam Hazeh – This World.
But Hashem hinted to me that not all is as it seems (as usual, eh?).
Only Mashiach will be able to sort everything out. Until then, we need to soldier on as best we can, knowing that we don't and can't really know anything - except to know that we must cling to Hashem.
Jews, Jews Everywhere....
We've all heard the stories of people who wanted to convert then found out that they were (or likely were) Jewish: the Portuguese girl descended from Anousim on her mother's side, the adopted son of a Christian pastor who discovered that his biological mother was Jewish, and so on.
On the flip side, we all know Jews who we are shocked to discover are converts. I mean, they just seem so, well, Jewish. And it has nothing to do with their external appearance, either. How many times have I done a double-take upon finding out that someone I've known for years wasn't born Jewish nor even knew alef-bet before the age of 24, only to have her cheerfully say, "Well, I don't exactly look Jewish, do I?" or "But didn't you notice that my children totally don't look Jewish?" and point to her flaxen-haired, blue-eyed, round-faced offspring.
No, I didn't notice, actually. Everyone looked perfectly Jewish to me.
Or she's black, but you're positive that she must have a Jewish great-grandmother on her mother's side (yet she insists she doesn't) because she exudes such incredible Jewish atzilut.
You know what I mean.
But then there's the other side.
We all know about Erev Rav. They're always bad.
But actual non-Jews aren't. Non-Jews can be very nice. Non-Jews can be very fond of Torah, Israel, and the Jewish people.
I’m going to continue with a few stories before I get to the main point of this post. Enjoy....
True Story #1
A Chassidish woman was telling me about when she was young and asked her Bubby about a Jewish family in the neighborhood that was behaving oddly.
“Maybe they aren’t really Jewish,” said my friend.
“Maybe you aren’t really Jewish,” said the Bubby.
My friend stared at her Bubby in shock because their family ancestry is brimming with prominent rebbes and illustrious talmidei chachamim.
“That’s right,” Bubby continued. “How do you know you’re Jewish? Maybe a few hundred years ago, our great-something grandfather married some non-Jewish lady and raised them as Jews, spoke to them in Yiddish, and no one was ever the wiser?”
She went on to say that we can’t ever really know or understand these things and that for incomprehensible reasons of tikkunim and gilgulim, it seems that Hashem puts some non-Jews in situations where they have an intimate connection with the Jewish people.
And, in fact, this is common today with overwhelming intermarriage and the widespread adoption of non-Jewish children by Jewish families – adoptees who never undergo a kosher conversion. Obviously, for some of these children, being born to an intermarried Jewish father or being adopted by a Jewish family is their soul’s way of joining Bnei Yisrael, with such souls eventually making a sincere conversion and living as upstanding Jews, propelled by their soul’s Jewish fire.
But most don’t.
True Story #2
A kiruv-activist ended up stuck on the freeway Erev Shabbat until this nice guy pulled over, revealed he was a mechanic, and went to work on the kiruv-activist’s car. The kiruv-activist profusely thanked him and the mechanic explained, “Oh, I couldn’t leave you here, stuck on the freeway for Shabbos.”
Surprised at the response, the kiruv-activist inquired further, to which the mechanic replied, “Sure! My brother became frum and learns in kollel in Bnei Brak. My name’s Mark Goldberg, but my Hebrew name is Moshe.”
Certain that this Erev-Shabbos breakdown was Shamayim’s way of bringing another Jewish soul to the path of Torah, the kiruv-activist took down Mark Goldberg’s number, gave him some kiruvy pamphlets and invited him for Shabbos.
Mark thought the kiruv-activist was so nice. So many of these frum people are so nice, he knew from having been to his frum brother’s simchas.
But when the frum Goldberg brother in Bnei Brak heard about it, he laughed ruefully and said, “The poor kiruv-activist is wasting his time. My brother Mark is adopted, never converted, and has no interest in doing so, yet believes that he’s Jewish anyway. He’s a great guy, but he’s just not Jewish.”
True Story #3
An elderly distant relative recently told me about her maternal great-grandmother. “My great-grandfather met her in America, but she always refused to tell anyone her real name or even where she was from. The family tried so hard to find out. Even on her deathbed, she refused to give any hint of her origins. We hired someone to trace her ancestry, but it just stopped at a dead end. We have no idea who she was or even where she was from.” She leaned forward and giggled conspiratorially. “We think she may have supported herself doing you-know-what when she came to America – or maybe in Europe to get the ticket – and that’s why she didn’t want anyone to know who she was!”
However, that reason didn’t make any sense to me. If her great-grandmother had engaged in such a profession, it would’ve been for a short time as one of many anonymous young women, not something that could still be discovered fifty years later on her deathbed merely by revealing her country of origin.
However, my elderly relative is totally secular and doesn’t know any halacha. But we do. What makes a lot more sense are the following scenarios:
- The lady wasn’t Jewish, but for some reason, wanted to get on board with the Jewish community in America – maybe because of the special societies Jews created to help Jewish immigrants, maybe for the support Jewish immigrants gave each other, or maybe because she believed the old adage that a Jewish husband is better than a non-Jewish husband. Back then, she would have realized from other Jews that only a Jewish mother can produce Jewish children and in order not to hurt her children’s future, she refused to even hint at her origins.
- She actually was Jewish and back in Europe, she was an agunah. Either she had a husband who disappeared, leaving her unable to remarry or have children, or she was married to an abusive man who wouldn’t divorce her. So she escaped to America to start anew, knowing that if she ever breathed a word of her origins, her children could never marry Jews being that they are mamzerim.
True Story #4
A secular Sefardi Israeli man went the mail-order-bride route, traveling to one of the Russian-speaking Muslim provinces to marry a non-Jewish woman. Because of her ethnicity, she looks more like the Sefardim in Israel and not the non-Jews of Moscow or Kiev. She also learned Hebrew really well and developed a fondness for Jewish traditions. She expressed a desire to convert (although I don’t know if she really understands what that means), but claims her “husband” told her, “I didn’t marry you to be frum! You stay as you are.” However, she sends her children to the local ganim on their moshav and celebrates all the Jewish holidays and doesn’t bring any other religion into the home. In fact, she is raising her children very similarly to how many traditional Israelis raise their children. Her children speak perfect Hebrew, have Jewish first names and a Jewish last name, and seem Jewish in every way and are knowledgeable in the way that traditional Jews are, and are accepted among their Israeli family and local society as Jews.
As many of you know, Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi spoke about this very issue here around 1:24:00.
True Story #5
Hamodia once published the story of a woman who had been adopted by a frum family under the impression that they were receiving a baby born to a Jewish mother. When this adopted daughter reached her late teens, she and her adopted parents discovered that she was not Jewish after all, throwing this Beis Yaakov girl into an emotional maelstrom. Traumatized by the information, she insisted on converting immediately. But the Gadol with whom they consulted gently insisted that she wait until she’d thought things over more. At first, the suggestion shocked the girl. Why should she think things over?! She felt Jewish and knew what she wanted.
But of course, she followed the Gadol’s directive.
After she’d calmed down, she realized that while she was fond of many aspects of Judaism, her deeper motivation for following halacha was always because she felt she had to. And that was the only reason. I can’t remember her exact words, but basically, she’d never actually felt a real connection to Torah life.
And so she left.
(There was a whole beautiful point to this story, in that she ended up preventing an intermarriage later, but for the purposes of this post, I’m leaving it here.)
Finally, we've all known situations in which a seemingly frum spouse is appallingly abusive to the other spouse, so much so that it seems the abusive spouse might not be Jewish (as he or she lacks the traits of kindness, compassion, and healthy shame for bad behavior). These intolerable marriages are part of why divorce is on the rise in the frum community. In these situations, the abusive spouse shows no improvement despite copious prayer, therapy, and any other methods tried. For example, in Racheli Reckles's article, I find it interesting that the powerful effect of heroic gratitude and hitbodedut led to the abusive spouse divorcing the victimized spouse and not that the abusive spouse improved in any way or made any steps toward teshuvah, which is what usually happens when you daven fervently for someone.
Could it be that the abusive spouse wasn't really Jewish? And I don't mean that maybe he's Erev Rav (although it could be that, too), but that he really wasn't Jewish and therefore, they had to get divorced as an intermarriage is really no marriage at all and is just an obstacle to finding one's true zivug (which she eventually did).
The Jewish Connection
I realize that some people are getting fed-up with hearing about Erev Rav everywhere – even though it’s true that the Erev Rav are everywhere, if not in actual numbers, then in leadership positions – and their hashkafah is certainly permeating all factions of Bnei Yisrael as I discuss here.
But a non-Jewish soul is different than an Erev Rav soul. The Erev Rav crave Mitzrayim and all the spiritual darkness and debauchery and greed that implies. But non-Jews don’t – necessarily. There are non-Jews who crave a spiritual life, who become bnei Noach, and certainly there have been non-Jews who have saved Jewish lives with incredible mesirut nefesh. There are even many non-Jews who take on many Torah commandments as a way of expressing their particular version of Christianity.
Non-Jews can and should connect to Hashem.
But it is simply not in them to connect as a Jew in the uniquely Jewish way.
They can appreciate the ideas and beauty behind mitzvot. But they can’t personally connect through the mitzvot meant for Jews. It just doesn’t speak to their soul.
Please understand: I am NOT for nosing into people’s ancestry or wrecking shidduchim or casting suspicion on perfectly upright Jews.
The Jewish soul is like fire. It's constantly vibrant, lit up, moving and active and passionate.
Whether gregarious and extroverted or shy and introverted, the Jewish personality maintains a certain intensity.
When the Jewish neshama lacks air or doesn't have enough room to blaze forth, this inner fire can come off as a kind of edginess or anger or depression.
If you're feeling like you're constantly being straight-jacketed and your soul-fire is being doused or oxygen-deprived by someone who seems genuinely nice and well-intended, consider stepping back a bit while davening for that person to grow in emuna, and discuss the issue with Hashem. It could be that such a person isn't trying to hurt you (like Erev Rav is) but simply can't relate. Perhaps your soul-need for an authentic Jewish connection to Hashem feels all wrong to that person because it is wrong - for that person.
(Or maybe he or she really is a true-blue Jew who has simply been misguided.)
True Story #6
I met Sara at someone's Shabbos table. During the conversation, she expressed her discomfort with how Rebbe Akiva died i.e. being steel-combed to death. She wanted to know: Is that the extent to which a Jew really needs to go? She was clearly taking it to heart, his suffering very real to her. The hostess and I understood her because we also found that story very disturbing when we first heard it. Sara was FFB and so were the other guests at the table. The other guests wrinkled their noses at Sara and said, "He was a tzaddik. I mean, like, really. We're talking about Rebbe Akiva." Their faces clearly said, Don't you get it?
Sara's whole face drooped and her shoulders sagged.
The hostess and I tried to answer Sara as best we could and she perked up a bit, even though the other guests were still staring at her like she was chomping away on chocolate-covered ants. As Sara struggled with the issue, the hostess and I realized that we ourselves hadn't really probed the issue as much as we could have and didn't understand it as much as we really could, and admitted this to Sara.
As Sara spoke, she was edgy and frustrated and direct. But there was still something very likeable about her. Why?
Sara wasn't arguing in order to reject Judaism; she was arguing in order to connect to Judaism. When Sara ran into unpalatable ideas in Torah, she instinctively felt it was due to her lack of understanding and not because the Torah itself is unpalatable or wrong. She struggled to understand and connect, not to reject.
This edginess and "pushback" don't derive from heresy, but from a Jewish soul starved for spiritual oxygen.
Suffocation is often accompanied by a flailing of limbs, so to speak, gagging and jerking, and desperate cries for help.
And so it is on the spiritual level, too.
Later, I saw Sara at a BT seminary (which is usually not a good idea for FFB girls, but in Sara's case, it was a perfect fit). She'd received good, deep answers to her issues and was now able to channel her fire into big projects. The edginess and frustration had blossomed into proactivism and a spiritual passion. Even the pain and inconvenience of a broken wrist at one point didn't get her down.
Dousers of the Fire
Over the past few years, I have occasionally run into frum Jews who are very concerned with feeling frum and acting frum, but not with being frum – and I’m not talking about consciously hypocritical people, but people naturally concerned with doing and not being – and honestly unable to tell the difference.
- Such people get rigid in their thinking about certain issues – which looks very frum – but actually goes against any and all sifrei mussar you’ll ever read regarding those same issues. For this same reason, such people can even be machmir as it makes them feel frum because they are performing chumras.
- Nearly all their mitzvah observance over time seems by rote and because they have to, and not because they ever want to or because this helps them connect to Hashem.
- They even tend to boast about their acting abilities, such as proudly declaring, “I want to make a kiddush Hashem for my modern Orthodox aunt, so I only call her when I can work up a lot enthusiasm for my life and make it sound like everything is going great for me. And my mom says it’s working because my aunt said, ‘Rochel always sounds wonderful, she sounds so happy every time I talk to her.’
- Or consistently for years, boast about how they daven with or play with or read to their kids – even though they hate it. But they beam with pride as they describe the great act they put on and how their kids supposedly have no idea.
- For years, these people brag about how they pretend to be happy on chagim for the sake of their guests and children.
- When some people hear shiurim by popular frum speakers, they consistently tend to describe how much they love the speaker’s personality (“So nice!”) without commenting on the speaker’s content. They like to hear stories about special people and baalei emuna without having any desire to learn how to actually be like them, to internalize at least some of their attributes. In other words, they prefer to remain in a state of admiration of great Jews rather than struggling to fulfill their own potential themselves.
- They can unintentionally show deep sympathy and identification with non-Jewish ideas and values - but this is very hard to describe exactly as it can be very subtle and easily confused, for example, with a soft-hearted Jew who is showing appropriate compassion and understanding for tinokot sheh nishbu or for frum Jews who've undergone trauma.
- Another bizarre response is reacting with some kind of anger or disbelief whenever the idea of serving Hashem b'simcha and doing the mitzvot in a state of joy comes up. It's like they feel they honestly can't do it, so they become irritated - or they just shut down - when they hear about it.
- They rarely mention personal davening, or self-introspection beyond what is recommended in pop psychology, i.e. working on the outer reaction, such as suppressing an angry response or talking in a fake sing-song voice. (In other words, acting right.)
As far as Jews go, well, any Jew can have a crisis of faith or get overwhelmed by a nisayon or become confused and react quite similarly to the above descriptions.
The distinction is admittedly subtle - which is why we can't really know and why Mashiach will have to sort this out (among a whole lot of other stuff).
But not only do these people behave this way themselves, they often try to constrain other Jews in this suffocating, empty mindset, too.
It seems to me that authentic Jewish passion for mitzvot and for Torah connection just feels wrong to them.
They just can't imagine and just can't relate via a Jewish conduit.
Again, we cannot KNOW. One of the holy tafkidim of Mashiach will be to sort this all out.
In fact, the post on Leah came out of this personal soul-searching. I felt that Hashem was telling me to follow Leah’s example: You do your small part, whatever you can, and then leave the rest up to Hashem.
Of Course, Jews are People, Too
Again, please don’t misunderstand me.
A Jew could have grown up in an abusive "frum" home, could be going through a hard phase in which he or she is just not happy. A Jew can become confused. A Jew can become overwhelmed....maybe she just had twins a week before Pesach and really does need to pretend to be happy for the sake of her family because she is severely sleep-deprived, overwhelmed with feeding and diaper changes, and in physical pain from surgery or whatever. In that case, putting on a happy face at the Pesach Seder is a huge meilah and act of gevurah, and not a sign of a deeper lack.
Jews have very real downs in their lives. Jews get stuck. Jews get sick, get abused by parents or spouses or schools or communities or mentors, and encounter grueling struggles.
Jews get fed up. Jews go off the derech.
Jews get depressed and despairing.
All that does not mean they aren't Jewish.
But the Jewish spark is still there beneath it all.
Non-Jews can be Nice, Too
While it’s true that real Jews share a sense of compassion, kindness, and healthy shame and that any Jew who doesn’t should be suspect as Chazal stated, it doesn’t mean that no non-Jews ever possess compassion, kindness or healthy shame.
The Roma woman who saved Leichu in A Daughter of Two Mothers was clearly kind and compassionate. The peasant couple and their daughters who constantly risked torture and death to sustain the Paneth family in A Sun and a Shield were clearly kind and compassionate. In modern society, non-Jews run soup kitchens and homeless shelters and are the forerunners in the struggle to protect unborn babies. Non-Jews adopt unwanted children born with serious physical and mental defects. Non-Jews also show regret and shame at having done something wrong.
Bnei Noach certainly display these fine qualities.
Non-Jews can also show enthusiasm for Judaism. In the compellingly written autobiography of one Noachide's journey, Turning to Torah: The Emerging Noachide Movement, Kimberly Hanke described how her appreciation of Judaism led her to start the conversion process. But at one point, she needed to call in to work to let them know she couldn't be there because of Shavuot. And she just couldn't do it. It simply wasn't in her to do it. She realized that she wasn't part of the Jewish destiny as a Jew, and so became a Bat Noach.
So non-Jews living as frum Jews can certainly be nice, but they simply won’t relate personally to the Torah as Jews. The Ohr Hachaim explains that the very source of non-Jewish souls and Jewish souls are completely different (and for the life of me, I can’t remember where).
(It is the Erev Rav souls that are always bad, no matter what.)
Acting Right vs Struggling to Actually Be in the Right
Again, there are definitely times for Jewish parents (and spouses) to pretend to feel something they don’t or be something they aren’t – also known as rising to the occasion. There is also certainly the concept of mitoch lo lishma ba lishma – also known as “fake it until you make it.” Meaning that you know you’re “faking” it with the intention to eventually “make it.” You want to actually become “it” and not just feel good or look good.
But it can’t be that all of frumkeit is always one big act.
Only God Knows – Literally
What I got out of all this is that I need to really work on going b’temimut with Hashem.
I don’t know who is Jewish.
I don’t know who is Erev Rav (although sometimes the indications are quite clear).
I don’t really know anything.
I realized that I have to stop reaching outward and starting delving inward.
Leah needs to be my role model.
Now, maybe Hashem wants something different from you.
Maybe the message I’m getting doesn’t relate to you at all.
If so, then you should probably just ignore this post.
But I’m hearing from so many people who get rejected or have their fire "doused" while doing sincere hishtadlus. People who sincerely follow a “rav” or “rebbetzin” or give their all to their spouse or friend or parent or parent-in-law or frum boss or client – only to be dismissed or straight-jacketed in some way. Sometimes the rejection is disproportionately nasty.
(By the way, when I say “give their all,” I’m not talking about being a martyr or something manipulative like that. I’m talking about people who were motivated by a sense of genuine desire, compassion and empathy, and hope.)
With all the rejection going on and all the wonky responses to core Jewish ideals like emuna and tefillah and being b’simcha and gratitude, I’m getting the strong message that a Jew needs to focus on his or her own avodah to hasten and sweeten the coming of Mashiach – and then let Mashiach sort out all the rest.
Because things are getting more jumbled and confusing even as they’re getting clearer.
P.S. I heard directly from Dayan Fisher ztz’l that when davening to get married, one should daven for Hashem to bring you (or whoever you're davening for) hashidduch hatov v’hanachon b’sha’ah tovah umutzlachat – the good and true shidduch in a good and successful hour.
If it’s your good and true shidduch, it will be a Jewish one.