17 Adar B 5779 / Sunday, March 24, 2019 | Torah Reading: Shemini
 
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Measuring Up    

Measuring Up



She observed other religious women and read books about the righteous. Thanks to her evil inclination, she created a list of should's that she used to torture herself daily...

 



A woman I once worked with was determined to get a handle on her pervasive feelings of insecurity. She worried a lot about what people thought of her and was constantly comparing herself to others. I told her that she was not alone. How often have all of us compared ourselves to others and felt bad as a result? With God's help we can work on the thoughts that make us compare and compete for no productive reason.

 

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to emulate someone we admire. We can certainly be inspired by others. What is harmful is the thought that compared to others, we do not measure up. This is the work of the evil inclination, clothed as a desire to be better.

 

I experienced this first hand when I was a young member of a community of newly religious people. We sincerely desired to come close to God, but we had only recently come from the secular world where everyone competes for everything. It took me a while to grasp that I have a unique way to serve God. Even though we all follow the same Torah, our spiritual missions differ and no two are exactly alike.

 

Looking back I can recall the anxiety as well as the excitement of becoming Torah observant. I loved learning Torah and getting to know my new friends in our dormitory in the Old City but before long I began to fret. It seemed that other women prayed longer than I did and seemed to enjoy it more. I was also troubled by the fact that I wasn't picking up Hebrew fast enough let alone mastering Rashi script! Sometimes I wasn't in the mood to study and chose to sit around and listen to my “old” music or go to the beach. I assumed that meant I wasn't very spiritual after all. I enjoyed dressing modestly but many of my friends had even given up make-up and I knew I never could. And, of course, I worried about getting married. At twenty-three, by my community’s standards, I was edging towards spinsterhood. I imagined myself becoming an object of pity.

 

Thank God I was soon blessed to marry a wonderful man but my troubles didn't end there. I now expected myself to bake beautifully braided challa for Shabbos and make chicken soup. I had always left the cooking to my mother, as well as every other household chore. I knew I should  have guests every Shabbos, continue my Jewish education, live frugally, recite psalms, do acts of kindness for everyone, have lots of babies ASAP, raise money for the pre-school and encourage my husband to learn Talmud all day and all night. I observed other religious women, read books about the righteous and with the help of my evil inclination, created a list of shoulds with which I used to torture myself on a daily basis.

 

I had neighbors who baked like pros, sewed their own clothes and embroidered tablecloths for new brides. Women younger than me already had several children and others were organizing big fund-raising events for our community.

 

My friends were true friends but in my insecurity I also set them up as my rivals. In my struggle to become the ultimate Jewish woman, I was missing the opportunity to get to know myself and forge my own path with the talents God gave me.

 

My friends and I can laugh about this now but back then we all felt it. We were unsure of ourselves when it came to being religious and creating Torah homes. We had no history to draw on, no childhood memories of Shabbos and holidays other than the most token observance.

 

We wanted to do everything right and therefore did a lot of things wrong.

 

Many of us went overboard in our enthusiasm and had unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others, especially our children. Some of us were so busy helping others that we neglected our own families. Some people were overly strict with Torah laws when it was not necessary. Some of us were afraid to say no or to appear to be anything less than a spiritual giant. I didn't know that my children would have spiritual battles of their own.

 

We had a lot of fantasies about the way things should be. I remember my confusion when my Shabbos table (blessed with five unruly little boys) was often loud and messy, with spilled grape juice and fighting over who got to sit next to our guest. This was not how it was supposed to be. This was not how it was depicted in the stories of our great ancestors, and I worried about the impression we were making.

 

I recall every Rosh Hashana, trying desperately to get to synagogue with all my children. No matter how early I got there I was never the first. It was always this other woman who used to give me what I considered a condescending smile. It seems so silly now but I remember feeling intimidated by her. She always seemed so organized and serene.

 

The comparing went on and on. Who had more children and who lost weight the fastest after a birth. Who nursed longer, whose house was cleaner, whose cakes looked nicer, whose kids got into better yeshivas, who who who...

 

When did it finally stop? Not soon enough but eventually I began to understand that I too had been granted special talents and strengths. We all have something unique to contribute and that’s why we need each other. God wants us to seek each other out and therefore He created us all with different natures.

 

I knew I finally got this when I was able to appreciate someone else without feeling threatened, admire someone else and still feel positive about myself, offer someone genuine compliments and enjoy doing so.

 

The more self-confidence you gain the more you can enjoy the company of the people around you. And then you can see yourself as a unique piece of the cosmic puzzle, the unfolding master plan. And we can look forward to gazing, one day, at the completed picture, the masterpiece, that God is creating from our contribution in this world.

 

 

* * *

Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen began her career as a Crisis Intervention Counselor in Silver Spring, Md. in the seventies. After moving to Israel, she worked as a marital mediator and social skills instructor for kids. Following the death of a son, Rebbitzen Channen became a certified bereavement counselor and worked with young mothers who had suffered loss. Most recently she worked at the Melabev Center for the memory-impaired, as an activity director and group facilitator for families coping with Dementia.  The Rebbitzen has written for numerous magazines and newspapers and recently led an interactive creative writing course called Connective Writing. Yehudit Channen is the wife of Rabbi Don Channen, Rosh Yeshiva of Keter HaTorah.  They are blessed to have nine children and many grandchildren and live in Ramat Beit Shemesh.





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  1 Talkbacks for this article    See all talkbacks  
  1.
  I am going through exactly the same this
Anonymous,1/31/2017 4:05:31 AM
     
 

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