Monday, February 25, 2008

"Off the Derech"

A frum person yet again said something to me along the lines of "wow, you are truely off the derech."

Off the derech. Off the way. Lost my way? My mom sometimes says that I've "fallen off the deep end". Like I'm crazy. It reminds me of when alchoholics say they are "off the wagon" when they are no longer able to control their own drinking.

The term "off the derech" irks me. It implies that I would be on this path if I could, but somehow accidentally I just got lost. Maybe I was following this path, and tempation was biting at me from all sides...and i took a step off the path into the scary dark forest becuase I saw some curious temptation. Maybe it was rolling up my skirts so they were shorter than my knees, or holding hands with a boy. It was only a small step, and the path was right there, I couuld go back at any time.

Then once I was there I saw something else that tempted me a bit farther away from the path. Maybe I was out travelling and had a piece of non kosher pizza, cause really, who would know, and I was hungry, and there was nothing else to eat anyways. Suddenly, before I know it, I'm deep in the woods of mcdonalds breakfasts and treating saturday like any other day, and I don't even know when jewish holidays are. I'm lost in the woods, and I have no idea how I got there, or how to get back to that path again. My friends and family are back on the path, and they mourn for me becuase they think I will never get to the end of the path...that golden city that they think they are walking towards. I'll be lost in these crazy woods forever, and who knows what will happen to me.

Of course they're not entirely sure if the path they are on goes to the city. The guy in the front says it does, and if they follow this exact path they should get there. But no one has ever come back from the city, and no one even knows for sure if the city even exists. But they have faith that this path goes there, since their parents walked that path, and everyone they know is on that path. Surely it must be the only path, and surely it must go to that city. They couldn't be walking all this way on this hard and tretcherous path for nothing?

But that wasn't the way it happened. I didn't accidentally get lost. More like, I walked a few steps off that path because I no longer believed what the leader said- I didn't really believe the woods were that scary after all. I had been told of all these bears and tigers in the woods, but I had never seen any, and it occured to me one day that maybe they didn't even exist! I asked the leader about it, and he had nothing to say to me, and told me not to ask questions.

And one day I ventured into the woods on my own, and after a few steps suddenly I found myself out of the woods entirely. And there was this great new path that I started walking on. And from my new vantage point I could look back on the path I had come from, and I could finally see that the woods weren't dark and scary, there weren't bears or fact the leaders were up ahead planting new trees around this path, just so they could scare people into staying on it! Even so, from my new vantage point, the woods were beautiful and full of wonderment.

And looking back, I suddenly realized the path I had come from just went in a huge circle! All my friends and family were suffering for nothing! And this new path I found was so was a pleasure to walk on, it had amazing sights along the way, and amazing people to talk with. It had crossroads and side paths, and each was incredible and I could choose whichever one I wanted to go to, and see all these things I had never dreamed existed when I was on that old path. No leader in the front was teling me which path to take, it was up to me to pick my route through this huge maze of possible paths, and it was scary but it was also incredible, becuase I could pick exactly which sideroads I wanted to take, and no one could stop me from taking it. And no one knew where this path led either, but it probably had just as much a chance as going to that city as that other path. I wanted to call back to my friends and family to come join me on this new amazing path full of possibilities!

But they couldn't see it. All they could see were the trees between, and the danger that they thought lurked there.


  1. what's absurd is that acording to the OJ's, 99.97% of the world is abnormal and .03% of the world is normal. But, I kind of like the phrase OTD. It reminds me of just how silly OJ menatlity is.

  2. Great metaphor.

    From my perspective,however, I would adjust it thus:

    I am on the path as well. However, I see that the path isn't really a single path but rather a series of paths, all going in roughly the same direction. Thant direction isn't straight, though. It meanders and I can't really see what's ahead, I can only speculate, but I'm enjoying the journey.. There are paths leading in other directions entirely and I see speople coming on and off my path, telling me about what they've seen. I see some other broad paths going in different directions, and the people on those paths look happy and contented and I am happy for them. I stop and visit with them wherever our paths intersect.

    But there are a strange bunch of people on my path. They are all wearing blinders that make the path look sharp and straight to them. The insides of the blinders are painted with images of frightening forests and they insist that they see no other paths. They insist that everything else is just the forest. What's worse, they seems to be foing futher and further to the right, treading a new path in the dirt that never existed before and heading towards a sharp cliff. They insist that that's where the path contniues and I can't seem to make them take off their blinders.

  3. That was beautiful. Like YH said, great metaphor.

  4. I saw a great sign outside a Yoga place on the West Side Highway once: One Truth; Many Paths.

    You are being hyper-sensitive, AE, though I do get what's behind it. If I understand you correctly, you are saying, "respect me! My choices aren't just the negation of your choices! My choices have as much validity as yours."

    Stop lashing back for a moment and get a little perspective. OJ's see life as a journey towards self-refinement and ultimately, towards God. (Think about the Ramchal's book, "Derech Hashem.") We place tremendous value on this metaphor. The word "halacha" (around which we OJs center our lives), comes from the same root (route?) as "lalechet" (to go). Halachot tell us where to go, point the way in our journey. There is no doubt that you are no longer on this journey. If this is the metaphor, you are truly off the derech.

    However, by definition, when you are off one journey, as long as you are still moving, you begin another. Since you are an atheist, I'm not sure where your journey will lead, but I hope it leads to somewhere meaningful to you. It is not my journey, but I respect your choices. I am off your derech and you are off mine. Mine, hopefully, leads to God, and yours, hopefully, leads to meaning. You may see mine as a circle, going nowhere. I see mine as a spiral, biting its way through the fabric of time, establishing patterns but still growing and rising up towards my goal.

    I can't pretend to know what shape your derech takes. I have no access to it.

    I hope that you respect my journey as much I respect yours, and may your derech be as wonderful as you describe it.

  5. haha, i don't think I was being hyper-sensitive. I just got an email from someone who said "wow, so you are truely off the derech now, arn't you", and I didn't really know how to respond to that. And then I was thinking about it in the shower right afterwards, and came up with this.

    I do respect your journey, I have nothing against religious people, I just wish some of them (in particular- not you) could respect my choices as well, as you do, and not see it as "falling off the deep end" as my mom loves to put it. :)

  6. Excellent post AE. I really enjoy your blog.

    All my immediate family are also OJ, most of the "modern" variety. I can completely relate to you and your attempt to receive respect and acknowledgement from your family.

    I'm also at the point where I MUST come to realize that it will never happen. THAT has been a difficult journey. It hurts immensely. Although, I still have difficulty understanding how a parent can dismiss (not "disown", in both our cases)their own children and consider them "lost." How they can look you in the face and say, "don't marry one of THEM" and then think that they are not bigoted and racist.

  7. Hi,

    So I have read excerpts of your blog and I think it is interesting than lessening your degree of observance, you are really just sort of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

    Here's the thing. I get that you were raised a certain way and that the beliefs you held weren't so much your own as opposed to ideology that was somewhat forced upon you.

    So maybe the view you have of all or nothing really is an observant perspective in that you can't pick and choose halacha. The truly observant either follow all of
    G-d's law or I guess none of it.

    But my feeling is that why do you have to go from someone who grew up frum to a completely apathetic atheist?

    I was raised reformed. I eat cheeseburgers and wear short skirts. But I will never give up on my Judaism. I don't care who tells me what I can eat, do on Shabbat, or wear. I am Jewish forever and always. It's a responsibility and a gift. I plan to marry Jewish and possibly make aliyah someday.

    I support and respect the frum community. It isn't for me. But that doesn't mean I have to give up on the religion entirely.

    Maybe you should go to Israel so you can meet other Jews from other countries who take a more progressive view towards Judaism. Maybe you just need to find your niche.

  8. maybe you should read this post.

    And I still do celebrate some aspects of my jewish heritage. In the way I want to celebrate them.

  9. great post,

    your journey reminds of the famous scene in the awesome book Illusions, by Richard Bach

  10. i actually read that book many many years ago (in college)...maybe i subconsciously plagiarized it :)

  11. You write so well!

    I'm somewhere between the old and new path, lost in the woods :-(


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