Of all the noteworthy things I’ve gleaned from the comments to my actually existing and in laying out where I am coming from and what my perspective is, it was not the vitriol—unfortunately, that is a standard and hallmark of blogging in general—nor was it the confusion at my willingness to continue to participate in a practice in rather meaningful way, a practice I clearly have moved on from believing in. Rather, it was the shear number of people who just don’t know, who are, forgive the hackneyed expression, sick and tired of being sick and tired. The overwhelming feeling that I sense is that of fear.
Fear is a tricky thing. Everyone feels it, whether it be the clichéd upside down stomach or the tingling on the back of your neck; it is ever present, lurking in anticipation, and we often succumb to it, allowing that we have no other choice. In reading and responding to all the comments on this blog and elsewhere, it reminded me of when my knowing sense of fear suddenly collapsed like the proverbial straw man that was my life. What fear was ever-present for me? God, of course. I feared angering him, upsetting him, letting him down. I followed and obeyed and cried and danced and shuckled, all out of a fear that bred devotion and sacrifice. I spent years learning and studying everything and anything that was said to be His word and His will, all in a vainglorious effort to do no wrong. This is not a post on the trope of Yirah vs. Ahava; that is an argument and discussion fit for a post-high school yeshiva dormitory, not for us here. When I look back at what my beliefs used to encompass, of the fear that drove me to do things and not do things that violated all of what my core was telling me was wrong and egregious, I recognized that fear is a far from a powerful tool of contemporary Orthodox Judaism; it is its driving force. Fear of God, of reputation, of social standing, of shidduch, of shul membership, of whispers, of being to frum, of being less frum. All of these drive any close knit and insular community, of course. But once that fear is gone, removed through an excruciating cocktail of knowledge and reason and understanding, what is left behind?
When I started on this path, I left my fear behind, as if I was leaving the Old World on the Mayflower for Jamestown. But my family—my wife, my children, my congregants—they still live in that space, confused, conflicted and concerned. They are afraid. And I, tethered to this place and to this experience, am fearful right back.