17 Sivan 5779 / Thursday, June 20, 2019 | Torah Reading: Shelach Lecho
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Labels are for Shirts

Why do people have such a need to cubby-hole each other? The Torah commands us to wear tzitzit, but there's no commandment that behooves us to wear a label...


One evening my daughter was feeling particularly feisty. The mere mention of the word “bedtime” made her irate. But I had no choice, I had to say it. So I said it. And I said it again. And again. And every time I said that cursed word she screamed and tantrumed all over the floor, the whole time mumbling something unintelligible about “throwing a window.” I tried to comfort her but to no avail. Luckily my husband was home and came to the rescue. I watched in suspense as he calmed her down and made sense of her rambling words. Through her screams he interpreted her demand to throw bedtime out the window! So after a short pause, my husband picked her up and walked over to the window. “Here,” he said, putting bedtime in her hands, “I’m going to open the window and when you are ready you can throw bedtime out.” My daughter nodded and sniffled, and then very eagerly, threw her big, bad bedtime out of the window. She and my husband looked outside, waved goodbye, then walked back to her bedroom, where without any complaining, my daughter went into her crib and fell happily asleep.


Ok, fine. Whatever works.


Meanwhile, a few moments after the big nighttime production, I got a somewhat disturbing phone call from an old friend. “Ohmigosh!” she said in shock, “I just saw some pictures of you guys on Facebook and I can’t believe my eyes! You got soooo religious! It’s crazy…you cover your hair and dress like a nun, your husband has the hairiest face I’ve ever seen, you have, like, a zillion kids…what’s up with that? The last time we spoke you two were honeymooning in Thailand and the next thing I know you’re all crazy orthodox! This is soooo surreal. So like, are you all Haredi now?”


Taken aback and unsure how to reply, I simply answered her question with a brief, direct, “No.”


“Sooooo, are you Chasidic then?”




“Oh, so you’re just Orthodox?”




“So then what are you?”


“I’m Jewish! Just like I always was. No category, just plain Jewish!”


But this was not ok with her. She so badly wanted to fit me into a box; to label me. But I’m a person! I have a strong personal connection with G-d that cannot be described by a word, or understood by dumping me into a category. I didn’t want to be put in a box and labeled. I wanted to be treated as an individual, respected, and understood on my own terms. I mentioned the wonderful quote from the Lubavicher Rebbe, “Labels are for shirts, not people.” And begrudgingly, she accepted my plea to remain spiritually anonymous but all the while, throwing in quick ones about me being a die-hard Haredi.


When I got off the phone and tried to recover from the conversation I realized how otherwise innocent little words can carry heavy connotations, stigmas and emotions. And just like my daughter didn’t want the end of her day to be reduced to the word “bedtime,” I also did not want my religious existence to be reduced to the word “orthodox” or “Chasidic.” I am Jewish and Jewish is all I want to be. I believe in every iota of the Torah and pray to Hashem to be able to observe all of the Torah's commandments. So why bother with the labels? Can’t we all just be united as Jews? So I went to the window and threw away the labels. And fell happily asleep after reciting the shema.

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  4 Talkbacks for this article    See all talkbacks  
  Excellent points, Sunny.
Dassie12/31/2018 12:35:01 PM
  Your friend was right
Yosef K5/4/2017 3:59:07 PM
Rivka4/24/2017 5:43:42 PM
Anonymous,6/17/2016 7:53:15 AM

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