A lot of discussion of late has centered on identity. Identity, of course, is not only about how we identify ourselves but how others identify us. When we are younger and more versatile, we are able to shift identities, to be become who we want when we want, with an impunity and impetuousness that is a trademark of the young. As we get older, however, our sense of self coalesces around a concept, a thought and an idea, of what we are and who we are. For the most part, that is then how we present ourselves to the wider world.
But what happens if something changes? What if that all-to-subtle shift occurs that flips the analysis, which undermines the foundation of identity built up painstakingly and with great care for all those years? What is supposed to happen then? Do we expect that person to keep up the façade? To continue to act as if all that came before is the current reality? For some, the cognitive dissonance becomes too great, and the foundation, their identity, crumbles unceremoniously, and their understanding of their self collapses along with it.
I am an orthoprax rabbi of a modern orthodox shul. I have a lovely wife, beautiful children and a warm and welcoming congregation. Are these all not part of my identity? Who is to say what is more important, my actions or my beliefs? Plainly, I do not believe what my congregants do, and I go through the motions doubting the whole way through. But as I read some of the rather aggressive and strained apologetics regarding the historical accuracy of the Torah and the extraordinary attempts to explain away the obvious; as I see others take the incredibly unusual position of defending orthodoxy and the second-class standing within the same, I am struck how some identities are so tethered to that world, so mired in its muck and minutia that they seem incapable of understanding life without it. And I, having come to the opposite conclusions, find that much like others, I am still anchored to the world of orthodoxy, my identities too intertwined to break free, my lie and life choices forcing me to stay on board.
And so I speak on Shabbos, I make kiddush in shul, I daven for the ummad. I do all those things because identity, at least for me, has become a prison. But as I look out into the faces of my congregants, when I see them radiant after shul or after a thought-provoking drasha, I am disheartened yet fortified anew in my role as a rabbi, and my search continues for an identity within that hallowed title.