Our World of Imperfection
Hashem wants us to be real, to tell Him about our bad temper, our anger, our bad habits and then ask Him to help us fix them. We don't pretend to be perfect...
by Rivka Levy
If someone asked you what is the single biggest problem that we all seem to be struggling with today, what would you say? Bad parenting? Stress? Failed relationships? Depression? I'd say: 'that we all lie to ourselves about having negative feelings, and feel terribly guilty about not being perfect' - because that is the root of all these other massive problems.
When people do this, they put on a fake smile and have a 'nice' public persona, but inside? They are full of deeply repressed rage, anger and hatred (about everyone, including themselves).
If that person isn't doing regular personal prayer, they only have two ways of resolving this problem:
1) catharsis - ie, mad rage attacks, where it all boils over and the person explodes (usually at their spouse or kids), but then has another three months of being able to pretend everything's ok; OR
2) Depression and withdrawal, which is often helped along by mind-altering substances like Prozac, which exacerbates the process of being 'disconnected' from our real self, to the point where people walk around like miserable zombies, unable to feel their lives or themselves, let alone other people.
This is completely NOT the Jewish way. Where did all these warped ideas come from?? Rav Kook knows. In the middle of World War I, Rav Kook wrote a brief essay called 'The Profane Culture' (to be found in English in the book 'War and Peace') that explains everything:
"The moral repression found in the profane culture which exerted vast dominion over the nations, brought oppression to their hearts and caused evil traits, diseases and anger to multiply and be pent up in the depths of their souls.
"And now, these are escaping their fetters through the horrendously bloody and awesomely cruel wars, which are more in keeping with their still unrefined natures."
Here's some more quotes from "War and Peace" (NB, this is another direct quote from Rav Kook:)
"Secular morality is superficial; it does not penetrate the inner recesses of the soul. Although it may lead one to be good out of the appreciation for the correctness of its logic, its guidance cannot withstand the assault of man's many passions when they erupt in full force."
So what can penetrate the soul, and heal the human character? Torah and prayer.
To put it another way, Rav Kook is teaching us that political correctness, societal norms, 'nice' behaviour, good manners and even 'therapy' is simply a pretty covering for a bunch of repressed, evil traits that are going to come bursting out of us one way or another, unless we knuckle down to the real work of fixing our souls the Jewish way.
G-d just wants us to be real. Real Jews pray real prayers where we tell G-d about our bad temper, our anger, our hatred etc and then ask Him to help us fix it. We don't pretend to be perfect; or that we never judge other people; or that we accept all the bad doled out to us with equanimity and love (at least, not until we've been working on our emuna for a couple of decades...)
Which brings us back to the question of questions: where did all this warped 'perfectionism' and beating ourselves up for not being angels come from? Let me give you a clue: 'Turn the other cheek' - the much quoted catchphrase of the viciously murderous, violent and war-obsessed Xtian world. (Blatant religious hypocrisy, anyone?)
On page 141 or War and Peace, it says the following:
"Xtian morality became the foundation of Western civilisation. Tragically, the church's dogmas demand more from man than he is able to achieve. Under a guise of holiness, xtianity demands from humanity an unnatural saintliness. Man's powerful passions are banned.
"But mankind can't adhere to the repressions of character traits which Xtianity imposes, because it doesn't provide man with the means to true holiness and moral refinement. Cut off from Torah, from the mitzvoth and the true path to G-d, Xtianity breeds a culture which dooms man to darkness and guilt, and to a festering rage whose only outlet is violence and war."
(A hundred years' on, other outlets include escapism via drugs, 'work' and 'entertainment', including internet porn.)
Rav Kook died long before World War II, so he didn't see how he'd described to a tee what happenead in Germany barely two decades later, when the 'most cultured country in Europe' turned into the most murderous, evil, violent regime, literally overnight.
As it was true on the national level, it's also true on the personal level. Most of us have been subjected to this Xtian / Western brainwashing for two millennia already; it's seeped into our psyches and poisoned us in ways we don't even understand. Once again:
* Perfectionism - is xtian dogma
* Suppressing our negative traits instead of acknowledging them - is xtian dogma
* Being unable to fight back against evil, or defend ourselves, or judge other people's actions - is xtian dogma
Isn't it a shocking thought then when we do these things, we're actually just acting like a good xtian should? Jews don't pretend to be perfect. Jews acknowledge our faults. Jews are passionate about building the world, and challenging evil - both in ourselves, and in our environment. Jews don't turn the other cheek when people start beating us up or abusing us.
Jews turn to G-d, and instead of telling Him a bunch of beautiful lies, we tell Him our ugly truths. And whenever we do that, we bring the world of truth a huge, ginormous step closer.