Monday, January 27, 2014

Thoughts by my Friend's Siyum

I had a very emotional experience last night.

I was by a Siyum Hashas made by a friend of mine.

He is the the only person in the frum world who I’ve told about my loss of faith.  Throughout all the years of struggling with my doubting, he was the only person who I confided with.

We know each other since we were together in the same yeshivah. I was in 9th grade and he was in tenth.  Then, we were each considered in our respective grade to be the best bachur in the grade.  

A year later, my friend had gone to a new yeshivah, which he was soon suspended from for expressing skeptical thoughts.  The story goes that he had approached the Rosh Yeshiva and asked him to prove to him the existence of God.

During his suspension, my friend came back to our old yeshiva for shabbos.  We spent many hours shmuzing together over that Shabbos, about where he had come from, where he was, where he might end up.  I remember being devastated that he was falling away from yiddishkeit, from his belief in Hashem and the truth of Torah.  I remember thinking then how his questions sounded ridiculous to me.
Motzoei Shabbos, I wrote him a letter. A letter written with tears.  A letter in which I begged him to reconsider his emunah, and to come back to Yiddishkeit.  I wrote to him how much I believed in him, how much potential I believed he had.  I’ll get back to that letter a little later.

I handed him the letter, and he read through it.  He told me that I had no idea how far he was.  The letter was irrelevant.

Flash forward a few years, and my friend had somehow discovered Kiruv Rabbanim who were able to convince him of the Torah’s truth. We were back together in the Mir, and we spent hours every day discussing Hashkafa and Avodas Hashem.

After we married, my friend decided that he was going to start taking learning seriously.  He started learning through Nach, Midrash, etc.  He developed a system for himself to cover tremendous amounts of ground.  And last night he made his siyum Hashas.

I also learned a lot over the years.  Not all of shas, but a considerable portion of it.  I was never able to get my act together with keeping systematic schedules for covering ground,  I was more of a thinker, able to contemplate and discuss a single idea from many sides for hours on end.

But more importantly for me, around five years ago I started losing my faith that Shas is even a work worth investing in.  Midrashim, etc.  I became more interested in works of philosophy, even Jewish philosophy.  I started my degree which required reading up on psychology and sociology.

For reasons that I may talk about in a different post, even after all our discussions about skepticism and kefira, he still remains a strong believer.

Last night by the Siyum, during his drasha, my friend took out the letter I had written him 19 years ago.  He read a passage which he had once reminded me of.  I don't remember the exact wording, but the idea was that I was daring him which once of us would finish first or come closest to finishing by our 36th birthday, Tanach, Shas, Midrashim, Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Rambam, and the major mephorshim.

He of course didn’t mention my name, but he called out in his drasha, that as far as he knows, the writer of the letter hasn’t finished anything - A biting statement, not entirely true - and he basically dared me to join him.  He doesn't like racing alone.

I appreciated that he made that statement, even though he knows were I’m holding. I felt obliged to take him up on it. For the accomplishment, for the challenge.  To show him!

But also to remember who I once was.
I was once a fifteen year old bachur who sincerely believed with all his heart and soul that there is a God, who gave the Torah to Klal Yisroel, and we the Charedim, have it.

I was once a fifteen year old bachur who cried for his friend who had lost his emunah.

I was once a bachur who thought that the greatest accomplishment a human being can achieve is to finish the entire Torah literature. 

I am not unhappy about who I’ve become.  That’s not my point.  It’s something much more nostalgic, maybe.  Maybe it’s something I can get back to later.