Yesterday I saw an advertisement for a vacation to Tasmania. It extolled the beauty of the land’s rugged landscape as well as the friendliness and easygoing disposition of the local population.
When I read about far-flung places, I image what it would take for us to go there. The logistics of traveling with four small children notwithstanding, just thinking about if it would be a possibility. How tricky would it be to eat there? Would there be any anti-Semitism which would necessitate being very incognito?
Going through this mental checklist caused me a moment of angst. For a moment, a too long moment, I felt frustrated. I wished that I could just pick up and go visit anywhere in the world that I wanted to without having to worry about kashrus or Jewish safety issues.
I’m very happy with my life and with the choices I’ve made. But that doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t have twinges of not exactly regret, but a second cousin to that emotion. After the feeling of frustration at the restrictions I’ve brought upon myself mellowed, I thought about the trade off.
It reminded me of something I said on a Rivka Malka Perlman video some years ago. Yes, there are fewer choices within my Orthodox life, but I think, for me, they are fewer choices between better options.
When I go to the grocery store, there are a bazillion types of cereal in the cereal aisle. A bazillion. This doesn’t even feel like hyperbole. I remember returning from Israel and being completely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of choices the consumer paradise that is the American grocery store offered.
But being a kosher consumer, the number of choices is reduced (though, truly, not by all that much. Most major cereals are kosher, even a lot of the natural or organic brands are also).
When I’m going shopping for clothes, an activity that I either love or hate depending on my mood and the state of my waistline, I really appreciate the boundaries of tznius that instruct what I wear. It gives me a focus when I’m shopping that prevents the overwhelming array of choices from, well, overwhelming me.
It may seem like it’s a bummer to have these restrictions, but I don’t see it that way. Time is so finite, and there are so many things that pull us in this way or that, begging for attention. This new food, that new look, this new destination, that new activity.
All of these distractions, while they do have the potential to enrich my life, are auxiliary to the core values of my life I get so easily distracted by trends in the news that I see on Facebook, by debates and causes and fads. It takes my attention away from the meat and potatoes of my life, which is to connect to my family, to G-d, to my community.
So the restrictions come in handy to remind me what I’m here for during this too short sojourn we call life. I appreciate the focus and direction they provide, and the guidance that halacha brings to the table. Less time thinking about what cereal or clothes to buy, more time thinking about how to be a better person, how to make the world better.
Life is full of restrictions anyways, not even just religious ones. When I married my husband, I restricted myself to just one romantic relationship. When I chose to stay home with my children, I restricted the financial contributions I could make to our family. When we chose to have a large(ish) family, that placed additional restrictions on us.
But none of those things feel like such restrictions. They just feel like the choices that have formed my life. And I love my life, so I don’t mind the restrictions.
It’s a similar feeling when I contemplate my choice to become Orthodox. Yes, it has narrowed down some of the options I have in my life. But my quality of life has been so enhanced that it doesn’t feel onerous.
And what would I rather have, the ability to travel anywhere I wanted to without restrictions, or the connection to a tradition which regularly provides me with guidance and tools to enrich my life, and which, G-d willing, will also provide my children the framework to have a meaningful, connected and joyful life?
It’s really no contest.