An Off-the-Derech Chassid Responds to JewishMOM.com

An Off-the-Derech Chassid Responds to JewishMOM.com

I just received the following response from Luzer Twersky, the former Chassid I wrote about in the post “What an Off-the-Derech Chassid Misses Most.” He writes:

I appreciate the lack of negativity in this article, I’m used to seeing trash-talking and name calling by frum bloggers, but you’re quite neutral and honest, and I appreciate that.

It is my firm belief that everyone should live the type of life that suits them best. Orthodox Judaism works for you, it didn’t work for me. That is all that matters. Religion does not make people happy, people make themselves happy. Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance. But in certain situations that choice becomes more difficult and one must put themselves in a place where it will be easiest to attain happiness. We are not all at the madregah where we can always be happy.

I always get asked “are you happy now?” And the answer is, “no, but I’m HAPPIER.” When I was frum and married I was on a cocktail of various psychiatric drugs just so I can get through the day, I haven’t needed any of those drugs since I left. Nuff said?

As for you, I’m glad you found happiness and fulfillment in your life, and as much as I think your beliefs are wrong, I’m still happy for your happiness.

What do think about this response, JewishMOMs? I’m interested to hear your thoughts below…

Image courtesy of Flickr.com user Smart Destinations

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10 comments

  1. I hear you, Luzer. Your life was making you miserable. Freedom seems to be making you happier.

    Perhaps you were not meant to live in a Chassidic enclave. Perhaps you needed to be free to wear purple shirts and striped ties and chinos and work as an interior designer. Perhaps you needed to join the Israeli army, to date a woman you met on the street, or to compose your own jazz-style music.

    But none of those things are contradictory to Yiddishkeit. On the contrary, Hashem has room for all of us to serve Him in a medley of different ways, different madreigos.

    What do you need to make you happy? T-shirts? Secular music? Expensive liquor? So treat any of those as PART of your Divine service. But don’t pretend that Yiddishkeit is only what you experienced at home, and therefore easy to cast off completely if you don’t fit that mold anymore.

    I suggest that you give Yiddishkeit another chance. WITH whatever hobbies you’ve discovered. You may find yourself reaching new heights of happiness.

  2. I dont like that he called your beliefs wrong…bugs me, especially when its not about wrong or right- wrong or right is in choice- and Emet- truth- stays truth and there’s no arguing with the truth. Whenever anyone tries to stump Judiasm- the easiest way to give them food for thought is by asking them- why do we celebrate Independance Day- for the sake of argument using Iisrael’s independance day- well, because we fought and miraculously took over the land of Israel and so that date has comemorated the victory, etc etc…why do Jews celebrate Passover? Because we are commemorating true things that happened- Sukkot, Rosh Hashana- Tisha Baav- etc etc…call it what you want- there’s no argument over EMES!- There is A G-d and HE loves us ALL- especially his fiesty children that look for trouble…as they always do, in the end- they come home to Papa…He waits for you too, Lassie- I mean Luzer…

  3. Thank you, ND, for your comment. the tora and the teachings of many rabbeim, for example the ones of R’ Hirsch sz”l, teach us, that we indeed can and must transform the mundane and make it holy – not through exclusion but through inclusion and working things through.

    i believe commentaries like the one of Luzer are important to us, they teach us something – and if it may be only that, that we don’t take for granted that everyone has to think, to act and to be the same.
    they also teach us that the other human beings are always a question, a challenge, a word, a shaliach from Hashem to us.
    a one i hope we will learn from in the one or the other way!

  4. If happiness were *the* goal in life, I would be in complete agreement. Yes, religion isn’t what makes people happy (though statistically, religious people are happier); people make themselves happy. That is 100% true. But in contrast to popular culture, I don’t believe that happiness is the measure of whether someone’s life is worthwhile. I see happiness as a vehicle, as a path, not as a goal.

    I believe that *the* goal in life is to be the best person you can be. That means self-refinement, personal development and growth, and in making yourself “bigger” spiritually and morally, expanding the goodness you embody to encompass those around you. This is not possible if you are not happy and fulfilled and passionate about what you are doing. But it is not synonymous with being happy. And I believe that religion provides the perfect setting (the Ultimate Divine Handbook!) for self-refinement and personal development. No, unfortunately, not all religious people are good people, and that is because there is also personal choice involved. How much you are willing to hear God’s voice as it is spoken, versus how much you are only willing to hear your own voice reflected back in God’s words.

    I understand from the article that Luzer had a tragic background, probably full of people who made the latter choice. He probably never had a chance to know someone who embodies the Torah’s divinity, compassion and superior moral values, at least not during the impressionable years during which he grew up. This is reflected in his opening thoughts in this comment. We have to ask ourselves why compassion and honesty were so hard to come by in the religious world for him.

  5. Luzer, it is obvious that the source of your major life choice is the fact that you don’t believe Hashem wants you to be happy. Usually our relationship with Hashem is shaped by our relationship with our fathers: Hashem is our Tatte in Himmel. If the concept of Tatte means someone abusive, for example, then it’s hard to relate to the idea that Hashem loves us and wants what’s best for us.

    No matter what your father was like, you need to know that Hashem loves you. He threw nisyonot your way because He thought you were on a high madrega and could handle it. Perhaps He even wanted you to change your life drastically. But no matter what, He wants you close to Him. Talk to Him about your anger, work it out like you would fix any relationship. I think this will bring you to a much higher level of happiness than the shallow one you presently feel.

  6. Truth is, I don’t feel like getting out the violins right now. I want to get some shofars blaring to rouse your holy soul back into the ring!!!

    But that’s just the Baal Teshuva in me, I guess.

  7. There is an extremely well-written blog by a formerly-frum person, titled “Daas Hedyot,” (daashedyot.blogspot.com) wherein the author does interviews with other formerly-frum people (in a series called “Better Know a Kofer”) about what their upbringing was like, why they left, what sort of religion, if any, they believe in now, what they miss, and how their families are handling it. What amazes me is the range of experiences out there, the variety of reasons people give for leaving, the variety of ways Judaism was expressed in their homes, the variety of things they miss and things they still practice. It’s fascinating reading.

  8. I will repeat my praise for the civility of both the author and (some) of the commentators on this blog. Although it does take away some of the fun I get out of responding to frum people, but life isn’t always fun and games.

    Since I don’t follow this blog on a regular basis, I didn’t know that my response was honored by a post of its own until now. I just happened to be talking to my brother on the phone about happiness and I was trying to find my response to quote to him, so I found this. Not surprisingly, I find myself quite quotable.

    Now in response to some of your comments.

    I haven’t completely rejected all of yiddishkeit, I only rejected the parts of it that don’t bring me joy. I regularly cook chulent at home, attend Shabbos meals, and get lost in a good niggun. Shabbos is a very beautiful thing, but so is a beautiful drive on the Palisades Parkway after the chulent. Kol Nidre is a beautiful and heartwarming hymn, but so is the burger after it. I didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I only threw out the baby, the bathwater was nice and warm.

    Re: Sara. We can spend terabytes of bandwidth and disk space, and the rest of our lifetime debating the semantics of truth vs. facts and the validity of the biblical story and neither of us will change their minds. This has been debated for decades and I don’t see the logic of debating it in this forum. I will say however, as far as science in considered, word of mouth and traditions aren’t sufficient enough to establish historical facts. Let’s leave it at that.

    Re: Daniella. I did happen to get to know frum people who I believe lived very moral lives and I still respect them to this day. One of them would be my late Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Stern who was one of the most righteous people I have ever come to known, but I believe I can be as good and moral a person as he was without abiding by the doctrines he did. His behavior was universal “good person” behavior regardless of their religion or lack thereof.

    And for the statistics that religious people are happier, so are people who are under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Just because a state-of-mind or a belief makes you happy doesn’t make it factual.

    Re: Chana. I understand that that is what you believe, but I don’t feel that way. I don’t believe in god. It’s that simple. As comforting as it would be to feel what you are feeling, it is nothing but wishful thinking in my opinion.

  9. To Luzer,

    I’d like to present to you an approach to Yiddishkiet that you MIGHT not have yet been aware of; a bit long but, believe it or not, this is only a part and if you wish the rest write me back. It was a response to Daniel who felt G-d did not love him. The actual personal answer I did not include just the general hashkafa. Some of it is pasted from Aish.com articles. Look there for much more. Please read it through.

    Here’s the question as presented to Aish.com’s Ask the Rabbi:

    Hi, my name is Daniel. I am a 30 year old male who is successful and happily married. I am a Baal Teshuva from age of twenty with an extensive orthodox Jewish background,having learned in Kollel in Yerushalaim for a number of years. Despite all this, I have been battling addictions almost my whole life. A few years ago I enrolled in a 12 step program but have not been able to progress like I would like due to a fear of G-d. That’s right, to put it bluntly, G-d scares the crud out of me. I view him as strict, judgemental, overbearing, and punishing.

    Unfortunately this makes the whole essence of the program difficult, since the program requires that you turn your life over to the care of a higher power, and how can you do that with the higher power that I just described.It may be that this G-d is not the real G-d, but rather just a product of my upbringing, but the image persists nevertheless. And when I look at history, and the way G-d deals with people in the Torah, the punishments that G-d meets out seem disproportionate to the acts being committed. This just serves to reinforce the image that I have in my mind of who G-d is.

    In order for me to have tranquility and sobriety, I need to have a loving, caring, and patient G- d. A G-d that I can trust and depend on. I can’t have the “jealous” G-d of the Torah who is always getting angry and threatening to wipe us all out. Nor the G-d of the holocaust or the G-d who allows such a thing as gehinnom to exist.

    Can I reconcile the G-d that I know I need to have with the G-d that seems to appear in the Torah and throughout history?

    Who is the real Jewish G-d and how I should envision him when I talk to him? Thanks.

    ——- End of forwarded message ——-

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Dear Daniel,

    Thank you for your important and excellent question.

    Before we discuss your actual question and the issues involved, allow me to present a possibly fresh “big picture” perspective that will hopefully enable you to approach this and any matter from a different vantage point. Please read it at your leisure, and don’t be overwhelmed. Most of the information may be familiar, some totally redundant, and for that I apologize, but bear with me nonetheless.

    THE BOND

    The first thing you (and we all) must do is eliminate a tragic misconception, and understand that JUDAISM IS NOT (but) A RELIGION; IT IS A RELATIONSHIP with G-d. The relationship you create here in this world by doing mitzvot and studying Torah is exactly what you”ll have after 120. No more, no less. HOW? because WHAT ONE DOES (CHOOSES TO DO)IN THIS WORLD TRANSFORMS HIM/HER INTO WHAT HE/SHE IS AND EACH CHOICE CREATES WHAT WE BECOME. WHAT WE BECOME IS EXACTLY WHAT WE ARE AND eventually, when the time arrives that is what WE ARE and 9THE RELATIONSHIP WE HAVE with HASHEM in the World to Come.

    Now Daniel, let me ask you a question – are you a body or a soul?

    You’ll probably respond – both!

    Wrong.

    Although INEVITIBALY we’re some sort of combination, ESSENTIALLY YOU are the soul. One’s body is just a “spacesuit” to enable it’s soul to accomplish what tasks it must, so that after “120 years” (or whatever), of life in this world of chaos and confusion, trial and challenge, it can satisfactorily claim the “Reward” it deserves in the World of Souls and the World To Come, while the body “spacesuit” finds its place in the “NASA museum” – (earth) until “T’chi’at Hamaytim” (resurrection). An even better way to describe it is that you are essentially a soul, but within a body vessel.

    That is what I mean when I say that “Judaism is NOT just a Religion” – because it is really way more than that; it is relationship with the Infinite; and everything we do or don’t in this finite “Olam Hazeh” World STRENGTHENS or WEAKENS this relationship.

    And, that is exactly what remains after our bodies have long disintegrated into dust and our souls are “upstairs”.

    The mishna in “Pirkei Avot” is now clear (Avot 4:21) – “This world is like a lobby before the the World to Come; prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the World to Come.”

    This world is for going through the challenges that establish the relationship; the next is where we actually experience the relationship!!

    But how does one know how to go about augmenting or diminishing this relationship?

    G-d did us a very big favor; He gave us the Torah which includes all the positive and negative mitzvot. So we know exactly what to do to in order to embellish instead of sabotaging whatever we have accomplished until now.

    [By the way, at this point it is already clear that we”ll need to perfect both the aspects of Love of G-d as well as Fear of G-d. Since not only will Love of G-d be important to help us strengthen our bond, but Fear of G-d has the very positive aspect to it as well as it ensures that whatever relationship we already do have with Hashem will not bediminished by negative and destructive actions that allow us, if anything, very temporal pleasure.]

    O.K. this is all great, you”ll ask, but what does it have to do with my question?

    UNIQUE MISSION

    Simply speaking, because G-d also gives each soul specific challenges as well, in order for each soul to grow through its own unique struggle in its progression towards Infinity.

    That is why the Talmud (Niddah 16b) states the following aggadic statement: “Rabbi Chanina once expounded: The angel appointed to oversee the conception of new embryos is named Lailah. It takes the drop of semen sets it before Holy One Blessed is and says before Him: Master of the Universe – This drop – what is its destiny? Will the person born from it be mighty weak? Intelligent or foolish? Wealthy or poor?

    Yet the angel does NOT inquire whether it will be righteous or wicked. This accords with the principle of Rabbi Chanina who said: “Everything is in the hands of Heaven – except for the fear of Heaven”.

    [This means that although the Almighty decides the particulars of one’s personal lifesituation as well as the experiences that will befall him, He does not influence man in regards to the task of fearing G- d, but leaves that realm entirely in the hands of the individual’s free choice.]

    Thus, the talents, skills, qualities and traits that each and every individual are gifted with (as well as their deficiencies) are pre- ordained for each individual soul in order to direct or channel these qualities, or maybe if necessary, even stifle them, in order to accomplish their mission.

    CHOICES

    However, aside for the “pre-destined” qualities and traits which impact us, sometimes we ourselves end up making the choices that place us once again into the various situations we find ourselves in. With our free-will we actually “choose ourselves” into positions from which Hashem nonetheless expects us to break out of, and to continue to strive, seek and cleave to Him.

    For a simple example, we may choose to shop in a specific store, and once there, we”ll once again have the option of selecting one of the various alternatives offered, or we may choose to walk out.

    On the other hand we might have been offered a ride to go shopping assuming we were going shopping in one place, and then for some reason, much to our disappointment, find ourselves in a particular store that we would never have thought to shop in at all. Although once again, our choices begin, but we definitely did not wish or choose to shop there in the first place.

    But what if we “blow” it?

    And we all do, somehow, sooner or later, “There is not one righteous person in the land who has never sinned…”

    So another very important fact that must be taken into consideration (for anyone who wonders how they can ever rectify the relationship they might have damaged by constant poor choice and misdeed), is to accept upon himself the belief that G-d is very, very, BIG! That He can handle ALL our misdeeds, and that all He desires is that we should find our way back to Him. On one hand this is very encouraging but it’s also quite scary; since if one does not accept this, this alone could very well be seen as a deficiency in their belief of G-d’s capabilities and power!

    (Important: See the aish.com article “The Crime I Didn’t Commit” by Sarah Rigler by clicking on to Aish.com/Holidays/The High Holidays/Growth and Renewal)

    EMULATING G-D

    I discovered another crucial and inspiring idea about our making choices that is quitepowerful:

    The Torah tells us: “God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him” (Genesis 1:27). What does it mean that man was created in God’s image? Human beings are finite and corporal. So how are we created in God’s image?

    Obviously the “image of God” is dealing with the non-physical part of us – the soul. Where do we get our drive for morality and meaning, our drive to make a difference? That drive is from the soul which is in the “image of God.”

    But there’s more to it than that. Just as God has independent choice, so too does each human being have independent moral choice. The ‘image of G-d’ means that we have the ability to choose.

    “Choice” means we are G-d-like!

    A further idea about the uniqueness of having the ability to choose that makes us special is as follows: If you think about it, life only becomes meaningful because of our ability to choose. For example, the difference in being “programmed to love” and the choice to love, is precisely what makes love significant. Similarly, if I don’t have the choice to do good, but am programmed to do good, then there’s nothing meaningful about it. Whereas if I have the ability to do good or evil, then good becomes significant.

    But it goes deeper still. For choice to be authentic, there have to be consequences. If every time I get in trouble, Dad comes to bail me out, that’s not really choice. Choice means consequences. Think about it. All of history – whether in our personal lives or from a global perspective – is based on the decisions that human beings have made – and the consequences that flowed from that.

    So now we can understand that “image of God” means that God created beings who have the ability to make decisions, and those decisions will create consequences that will make this being a co- partner in the development of the world.

    Now I think we’re ready to examine some ground rules which Judaism spells out for how God interacts with the world. I’ll include the first two, and then ask you to look up the rest in Rabbi A. Hoch’s excellent article Aish.com/Holidays/Tisha B’av/Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?”

    ***

    GROUND RULE #1 – THE POSSIBILITY OF EVIL

    For free choice to operate, it’s obvious that evil has to have the possibility of existing. If every time someone chooses to do evil, God is going to interfere, then there’s no moral choice. If every time you throw a ball it rebounds in your face, after a few times you get the message. If you eat pork and get struck by lightning, then you’re not “morally choosing,” you just see it doesn’t work. It simply becomes pragmatic not to do evil. (I actually read once how one “enlightened” woman – I think her name was Elizabeth Atlas, or something close to that, wrote, back in 1912 – that she called out to G-d one Yom Kippur, “I’m going to eat chazir today and if You really don’t like it, let’s see if You will strike me with lightning”. And guess what? No lightning!!!)

    If the lives of the righteous were obviously perfect and rewarding, that too would destroy the possibility of choice. Pragmatically, we’d figure it pays more to be righteous because look at the millions of bucks that come my way! That’s not choice. That’s not becoming God-like.

    So G-d placed our souls in a very unique world. It’s a world where on one hand a human being can create himself into a Moses, but it also carries the possibility of a person creating himself into a Hitler.

    Another point. Even if G-d will sometimes make a miracle, it is always in a way that is not totally obvious, thus enabling us to retain free choice.

    After the Exodus from Egypt when the Red Sea split, it was obvious to everyone that G-d had performed a miracle. Yet the Torah tells us “that a strong east wind blew all night” (Exodus 14:21). Why was there a strong wind blowing? Because God had to leave open at least the possibility for someone to say, “No, there was no miracle. It was a fluke of nature and the wind split the sea.”

    In the recent Gulf War, 39 Scud Missiles rained down on Israel and only one person was killed. What would it take for that to happen? Guaranteed you would have told me it would take a miracle, but it happened and we still have doubt.

    ***

    GROUND RULE #2 – INTERVENTION

    In Genesis 15:13, God tells Abraham, “Know that your descendants are going to be enslaved in a land they don’t know,” which of course means they end up in Egypt. So the Jewish philosophers ask: “If God wanted the Jewish people to be enslaved in Egypt, why did he punish the Egyptians?” Tough question!

    Nachmanides explains: “All God said is that they would be enslaved. He said nothing about torture and murder. God only said that he wanted a certain something to happen, but the Egyptians took it beyond that.”

    In Deuteronomy, Moses says that the fate of people depends on our relationship to God. The more we move closer to Him, the more He moves closer to us. The more we move away from him, the more He does the same. The language used is “God hides His face.” And when that happens, this leaves us open to the free will decisions of human beings. At times God does not intervene.

    We have to appreciate that in the Holocaust, it was not God who built the crematoriums, it was the Nazis. It is not God who was massacring Moslems in Bosnia, it is the Serbs. Which of course raises the question: Why isn’t God interfering? But do you see the difference between “God doing this” and “why is God not interfering?”

    King David said, “God, I’d rather have direct punishment from you than to fall into the hands of a human being.” Because that’s dangerous stuff. Are we guaranteed the merit to have God intervene?

    So, Daniel, basically we, as humans, are a product of our choices. No matter what situation we find ourselves in we can choose to draw nearer or to distance ourselves from our ultimate and infinite Source and Creator. And after that choice He presentsfurther scenarios so that we can continue to apply our freewill. Sometimes we can even “choose” ourselves all the way into oblivion – such as Pharaoh. Yet G-d oftentimes has mercy and enables us to catch ourselves before it’s too late.

    Unfortunately, this might be through some painful or traumatic experience, or as oneclose friend responded to me when I was once experiencing such a situation, and I felt that the impact was beginning to wear off – “What! You really expect G-d to give you a ‘kick in your rear’ every two weeks?!

    [For more on this subject I suggest you click on to Aish.com and search for “Freewill:Our Greatest Power” and “Beyond The Matrix”]

    Now Daniel with the above introduction in mind, let us return to your question and attempt to respond with a number of approaches:

    First of all, you state that thank G-d you are happily married. Do you have children? Say you do. Here already we have two relationships, as a married husband and as a parent, where it is obvious that we will need both love AND fear in order to maintain the relationships in good health…

    Why? Because there is no relationship with but endless loving, overlooking and forgiving. How long will a wife permit her husband to ignore, snub, and/or abuse her without reacting?

    How long will a parent allow a child to take advantage of the gifts he offers his child while the child continues to maliciously anguish and hurt his parent?

    But does it mean the parent doesn’t love his child? Of course he does! What did and will the parent NOT do for this child? Yet the child must be made aware that his relationship with his parent is constantly being judged and re-evaluated and his acts WILL impact their relationship.

    One must consider that there is no relationship without consequences and therefore thoughtless, or even worse, intentional and malicious deeds that undermine the parent’s role will have an adverse effect on his relationship.

    (A religion based on a relationship where God’s love is so overwhelming that it may disregard a sense of mans responsibility for his actions smacks of un unnamed Gentile religion that we are quite familiar with.)

    A mother does not have to be forced to love her child. The relationship is there from the first moment of the childs very existence! In the Torah (D’varim 14:1) Hashem refers to us as His children -“Banim atem l’ashem Elokecha”. Therefore Rav Eliezer says in Pirkei Avos (3:18) “…Beloved is clal Yisroel, for they are described as children of the Omnipresent; it is indicative of an even greater love that it was made known to them that they are described as..” On the other hand, it is understood that parents will often have to deal with the child in a manner that the child is not very happy about…

    To deny that Hakodosh Baruch Hu loves us as a consequence of the vicissitudes of history that have befallen us as a nation, is to deny “You should know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so Hashem, your G-d chastises you” (Eikev 8:5) and to ignore the essence of all the tochacha that Moshe Rabeinu exhorts clal Yisroel (especially in the first 3 parshios in D’varim as well as in Netzavim – Vayelech and Ha’azinu.)

  10. hey girls all your answers are a glorification of God’s name! wheras this man (have you seen his blog with filthy words??) is a great Hiloul Hashem…he definitely works for Mr Yetser Hara!
    We shouldn’t pay attention since we won’t help him, he is too disgusted and angry, but we should rather focus on bringing kedoucha in this world in all the ways we can!!
    this man is ridiculing judaism and the Torah way, but let’s bring forth more light, hey rightous b’not israel!
    with love

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