I recently had a very disturbing conversation.
A Rav I know and with whom I’ve worked on a number of kiruv initiatives over the years was setting out for one of his frequent trips to the US in his valiant and seemingly indefatigable quest to reach Jewish hearts.
“I’m wondering if it’s time to just stop fighting?” he said.
As my jaw dropped he went on, explaining how things are falling so fast spiritually; how such a high percentage of Yidden – secular, and even nebach, not-so-secular – are so addicted to the mindless ‘virtual’ world of meaningless information and inane entertainment that nothing we could say to them or offer them will make anything more than an interesting nanosecond blip on their radar screens – if that.
He spoke about how millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours are invested in kiruv projects that yield literally no more than a handful of changed lives.
I nodded, not knowing what to say. I’ve always been a hopeless optimist, wagering on the Jewish soul, no matter how far it’s strayed, to ultimately seek the ray of light it subconsciously longs for – if only we’d continue to hold out the torch.
But he was, if anything, an even bigger optimist than I, and much closer to the front lines as well.
“The only thing that could possibly get people’s attention at this point was if things, chas v’Shalom, started falling apart. If things in their lives they’d been taking for granted until now, suddenly aren’t so certain…”
As he went on it hit me that what he was really saying – to borrow terms from the well-known 12-Step program lexis – that their only hope to recover was by first hitting bottom.
The 12-Step premise is that as long as someone has yet to admit to himself that he’s powerless over a given situation; alcohol, drug, or junk food overconsumption and that his life has become unmanageable as a result, he won’t be open to making fundamental changes in his worldview (in the case of 12-Step and, l’havdil, Yiddishkeit) accepting the existence and power of a personal God, as a means of alleviating it.
Sure, he’ll look for solutions; diets (in the case of food addiction), therapy, treatment centers, what have you; but only if he can stay within his same comfortable box of a life run on self-will, of him (and not God) calling the shots.
The only thing that can break him from this seemingly endless cycle (as there’s always the next new thing to try), is by totally hitting bottom – that things have become so bad that his ego-barriers have cracked open and he’s finally ready to accept a solution from beyond his existential comfort zone – even the previously unthinkable.
In a sense, any Jew who’s not connected in a real way to God and His Torah, is addicted to the ultimate drug – all-encompassing-illusion – an opioid vision of life run by cause and effect, or by random chance, or by biochemical reactions, or by…(pick your poison).
As long as he views that paradigm of life as working for him (as dissatisfying or dysfunctional as it may be), and as long as he’s supplied with enough distractions and pseudo-options within the box of his misconception, he’ll never look outside of it.
Only once the old answers don’t make sense anymore. Only once the flow of numbing distractions has been turned off. Only once he has to face his naked self and build from existential ground zero, will the ‘hidden secret that makes life make sense’ be given room to resonate and flourish.
Boy, do I hope I’m wrong. Boy, do I hope the Rav will come back and tell me that three (or three hundred) jumbo jets packed with happy, healthy Yidden who can’t wait to learn Torah for the first time just landed right behind his.
But if I’m not, it might be high time to start drawing the blueprint for the next big 12-Step group: IMA (Ikvasa d’Mashicha Anonymous).
- If you had the chance to put one note, 25 words or less, into a time capsule (letter, message-in-a-bottle, etc.) that was going to be read by a secular Jew once the world has ‘hit bottom’ and it’s obvious that the answers of modern life aren’t true, yet s/he has no new answers to replace them – what would you write?
This first appeared on: https://soulfoodiecom.wordpress.com/