When I awoke, all was black. I had no idea what time it was. I was late. I told Dr. Norton that I'd be there for the meal. I walked in, in the middle of the meal. All was good. I was still a little tired.
He was a real character and his habits, and experience and words, hammered away at my hardened image of what Jew was and what a Jew needed to be. He really confused me, and made me think. I don't know if I ever figured him out. He was a convert, and he grew up Lutheran. Why in hell would anyone want to convert to Judaism!!? I could not, and perhaps still don't see how a person could bring that kind of curse on himself. To me, Judaism was just an unmanageable amount of responsibilities and laws that are unpleasant which have detrimental consequences whether you do them or whether you don't. What exactly was I missing? My mind told me that either I was crazy or he was. The funny thing was, that he looked more sane, and I was in pain, so that thought had me believe that perhaps his way may be better, but then again, I knew the Torah far better than he did, and that had me think that "If you knew what I knew, you wouldn't be so jolly, you are about to burn (in hell) big time"
For me, Hell was a very real thing, like making toast of coffee, I knew its roads, the alleys and valleys. I knew which aveiros (transgressions) gave you more hell and which gave you less, which ones would cook you for longer and which for shorter, Which ones you did your time and then left, and which left you to dry and rot, for a long long time. To me, it was really important because, I knew that I had been through so much pain growing up, that once I left this world, I wanted it all to be over. I simply couldn't afford to have any more sins that need to be taken care of "upstairs". I also, secretly hoped to have some pleasure in this world too, "don't tell anybody" but I knew that that would not be a good idea, since any pleasure you had here, would take away from the pleasure you had "upstairs". Don't tell anyone, I still wanted some pleasure. Deep inside I yearned for things to be alright. I wondered if there was any arrangement that I could make with God. "If I do this right, would you let me have a little bit of fun here?" I would say in my mind. "Is there any way we could work out some kind of deal?" I really want to have some fun. It seems to me that other people seem to be happy too. I also want to be happy.
Now, here was Dr. Norton, he had invented his own code of ethics and halacha. He was carrying a huge pliers around his neck on shabbos so that he could do some plumbing on one of his houses. I think it was his own adaptation or use of the "shinui" concept. To me, it was like "I don't know what you think you are doing, but if you are happy that is admirable", at the same time I had a very strong and unrelenting feeling inside. "If you knew what Judaism really was, you would wipe that smile off your face". I had also been afraid of being persecuted as a Jew. I would have loved to have been born a non Jew, as a Jew, I felt always looked at and scrutinized, and everything, seemed to evolve around us. I was tired of getting so much attention. (loi mi duv shach, ve loi, me uktzach"). I was told, to be proud that I was part of the chosen people and all the songs we sang were like mantras that reinforced how happy we were supposed to be because we were Jewish. I had begun to wonder if I was truly happy that I was a Jew. To me, it meant being scrutinized by non Jews and by God, it meant keeping to a thousand laws that didn't particularly mean much to me. It meant that we needed to be very careful with every law because if we did something wrong, he would get pissed and bring another Holocaust.
Also, since I didn't know what exactly got God pissed, I was in a real problem, because every commandment had to be weighted through those lenses of "Will this get him pissed or not?". I also knew, that even if I did everything right, which was obviously impossible, there was the problem, the potential threat of my fellow Jew pissing him off. There was no conceivable way that I could control all of these factors. How could I possibly keep all of the Jewish people from sinning? I had an idea. I had heard that if one man, one Tzadik, raises his level of holiness to a very high level that automatically raised the holiness of the whole congregation, all of the Jewish people. That had been one of the many illogical motivations of my attempting to raise my level of Talmud study involvement and level of focus. I needed to keep God happy. I had this idea, however illogical it may seem now, that somehow my learning, the degree of my devotion had something to do with how happy he would be with the Jewish people as a whole. I simply didn't want to go into those ovens again, and at that time, this was the only way I knew. The power of the Torah, that had saved us in the past and that is our only hope for the future. (Look, a couple of machine guns can also go a long way, when it really get tough)
In my mind, I wondered about Dr. Norton, "why would you want to put yourself in a position where now, more people would be out to get you?" I had no answers and neither was I ready to ask the questions. All, I knew is that he was a nice guy, an understanding guy. During that shabbos, he mentioned something about meeting a guy from the Mir Yeshiva. My ears almost fell off. I was hoping that I was far away from everything to never hear these names and words again. I regretted that the only people I knew were Jews and that there was no where to go where I'd be free of all these repulsing memories. I need a break, I need to go. I hate this. How will I ever stop this mess? How do I get out of these sick memories?
He was the first man I had ever met, who I believe understood me. Although my mind would take at least ten more years, to relax from all of it's associations to the frum world, he was the first kind heart that said words that helped me understand, just a little bit of what had happened to me. He had his Doctorate in Sociology, and he knew a thing or two about community dynamics. He said something about the pressures of growing up in an environment where everyone was expected to be a certain way. He didn't say much, but in his small and innocent comment, he put a gentle bandage on my bleeding heart and its ceaseless questions. "what happened to me?" "How had this happened?" "Hadn't I done everything right?" "How could this ever happen to a person?" I had done everything that God wanted me to do. How could he do this to me? Wasn't there some degree of fairness here. I felt like I had been kicked away from being part of the elite segment of frum society.
Now, I began to understand that there was a lot of pressure in the kind of community that I came from. I hadn't seen it as pressure. I just saw it as the way things were. There was no other way.
Now I became gently aware that there are outside forces that can make a person uncomfortable and wanting to do things that may not be so good for him. Still an unbearable burden lay on me. I knew, obviously, that i needed to find my way back to hashem, but I also knew that I was in pain and I may need a little break from him. I also knew that in heaven, there was no such thing as "taking a small break" from hashem because every single act was written in a book. I also knew that my body was hurting and that my body was asking me to not pay attention to God right now because that was source of pain. I also knew that I can't do that since God was the source of everything and that it was impossible to run away from God, for now, I was stuck. I knew that there was really no way in the world for me to have a good life. I knew that all of what I was doing now was wrong, and that I would be punished for it. I also knew that I just had to do this.
I knew that if I didn't push on, something really nasty would happen, and so I pushed on. For this moment, Dr. Norton's words allowed a small sliver of a breath, to seep its way through in between this burden of pain and my heart which was hoping that there may somehow be a way to see things in a happier, and more pleasant light.