Monday, December 4, 2017

"Off the Derech?"

Just sharing a post I made earlier today to a Facebook group called "Frum/OTD Dialogue."
(In case you didn't know, "OTD" stands for "Off the Derech." Derech means path in Hebrew referring to the "path" or way of traditional Jewish life. Frum is Yiddish for "religiously observant" in the Orthodox Jewish sense. "Off the Derech" is a modern expression meaning one who left traditional-Orthodox Jewish lifestyle and embraced a non-observant or less-observant one.)
New to this group. Thank you to my real-life friend ___________ for inviting me. Not sure if I fit into the “Off-the-derech” description, but not really “On-the-derech” either. I guess you could say I’m kind of on-and-off.
This got me thinking about the term “OTD.”
Just wondering. Why is it all or nothing? Do you have to be either “Off”-the-derech or “On” it? What about people who vacillate on-and-off?
I’m struggling to find my identity here. On one hand, I probably couldn’t be considered off-the-derech, because I usually wear a yarmulka and try to keep some major Jewish observances, albeit in a rather limited (and sometimes self-serving/lip-service/auto-pilot-kind-of) way.
Not sure I’d identify as ON-the-derech either, because self-serving/lip-service/auto-pilot observance isn’t really the derech I believe in. So I’m not really “on” my derech, although in some deep way, I wish I were.
Every so often, I get back “on” the derech, but sadly, I don’t stay “on” any task for very long. Before long, I’m off the beaten path again, veering off toward some other distraction in life, and quickly forget about having ever been on any derech in the first place.
Often I wistfully wish I’d have stayed “on” a derech, but other times I get complacent and feel resigned to my off-ness.
I guess you can call me kind of “off,” but not necessarily “off THE derech,” per se. Instead, I’m kind of “off” everything. On and off, that is.
I hope those self-revelations aren’t off-putting to you. Don’t mean to turn you off, and certainly didn’t mean to turn anyone on.
Maybe we need a new distinction: O&O – “On-and-Off” (the derech). I suspect that might include lots of other people too, many of whom might wear kippas/hats/sheitels and many of whom might not do so consistently or at all.
Furthermore, I don’t care for the “TD” part, i.e. “THE” derech. Why the definite article? Whose derech are we referring to here? If there are 17 million Jews, doesn’t that mean there are 17 million derechs?
Everyone has their own path in life. My path is not the same as your path. Even if both our paths happen to be bumpy, rocky and circuitous, it doesn’t mean we share the same path. Even if we both happen to be “off” (or “on”) any given path at any given time, or even if our paths intersect. Yes, our paths might bear similarities, but they are clearly not the same path. It’s that kind of boxed-in thinking (that anyone could possibly be “on” or “off” the same derech as anyone else) that I often find so objectionable about lots of “derechs” out there.
The only derech I feel we can ever truly share is derech eretz, mutual respect.
If I respect you and you respect me, then we share the “way of earth,” i.e. consonance, balance and harmony, just as we share planet earth.
On another note, don’t mean to insult anyone here, but I find the abbreviation “OTD” a little offensive, only because of its vocalized similarity to “OCD.” OCD is a real psychiatric condition, not something one chooses. “OTD” is a choice or a lifestyle, not a disorder. Why must we call it something that sounds like a medical diagnosis?
If someone is “off-the-derech” because of a psychiatric condition, then he isn’t “off” the derech, nor was he necessarily on the derech to begin with. Rather he is suffering with an ailment of the mind, psyche and body. Is mental illness a derech (or lack thereof)?
Speaking of OCD, there’s so much suffering in the world, whether or not modern psychology has a name for it. When someone articulates a religious, religiously apathetic, or anti-religious viewpoint due to his or her own personal suffering, is it really a religious or anti-religious statement? Or is it just an expression of human suffering? The same is true for actions, i.e. deeds of religious zeal or of anti-religious cynicism. If there is suffering involved, why do we get so caught up on the religious or anti-religious part? Is that part even relevant?
Moreover, surely every decent human being (all of us who cherish the universal derech of “derech eretz”) sees it as a priority to alleviate a fellow human being’s suffering, I would hope.
If someone is suffering, my first concern ought to be to alleviate that individual’s suffering, irrespective of which derech he or she is on or off. And surely I would never wish to inflict suffering on another human being, certainly not in order to prod him on to (or off of) any given derech.
Upon further reflection, that last statement is the official “derech” I claim to adhere to. But sadly, I don’t always live up to that ideal. When I think about the past, I’ve inflicted untold suffering on lots of innocent individuals, whether by neglect or with offensive words or demeanor. I surely regret those times I’ve veered off the universal derech of derech eretz. I truly wish I could stay on that derech consistently. If you have ever felt offended or wronged by me, I would appreciate a private message alerting me to that, thereby giving me a chance to make amends and get back on the derech.
This might sound like some religious-derech creed, but I firmly believe that someday we will all realize our true potentials and arrive at the end goals of our own personal derachim, both as individuals and collectively as a people.
In that sense, one can never actually be “off” the derech, because life is really just one trajectory toward fulling the ultimate purpose of one’s soul’s descent to earth. All the bumps and detours might seem like I’m “off,” but it’s really part of an awesome and inscrutable plan. The ultimate destination is the same. Some people have a short-long path, and others have a long-short path. A lapse or detour off my path just means that my path might be longer than I originally had imagined. Moveover, just like my path can take a sudden turn to what-appears-to-be "off" my original itinerary, it can also take a sudden turn back "on", or to where ever. My current location/direction on which ever path I'm on doesn't define me. When my path get difficult and I feel like I’m battling an up-hill climb, it helps to remember that it’s particularly because of all those challenges that I’m actually ascending. At the end of all the difficulties, I trust that my soul will appreciate the awesome ascent. All of our souls.
Just to conclude, I don’t believe that anyone is ever “off” any derech in the true sense.
Wishing you much success on your derech, and hope that you find much meaning, gratitude and fulfillment along the way.
Thank you for reading till the end.

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