Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha - Isolation
Chazal say no two opinions are exactly alike, and lehavdil, Winston Churchill summed it up nicely when he said, "The best argument against Democracy is to speak five minutes to the man in the street."
My wife often tells me that I'm too opinionated. I generally have found great canyons of difference between myself and the people that I interact with. Thought my life, I have felt somewhat isolated and frustrated by the people – be they Jewish, non-Jewish, religious or non-religious – that I am surrounded with. At times I have felt as if I was indeed an Alien that somehow landed on some far flung planet for whom there is little if any common ground. But I imagine that this not all that uncommon – every individual is an entire world, and although I'm sure that some experience this more than others, in many ways we really all are an island.
I have often thought about Avrohom Avinu in this context. The passuk tells us "echod hoya Avrohom" – Avrohom was alone – and we can imagine how isolated he should have felt… one man who's views and ideals differed so completely with everyone he ran into; we can imagine what that must have been like. And while it would have been quite understandable for him to pack up his things and move to Walden Pond, nevertheless he maintained quite a strong connection with his fellow man. Yiddishkeit is interesting this way, we are given two messages, one of individual asceticism of sorts, and another of communal interaction: We are obligated to marry; we need to join (at least) 10 people 3 times a day, we have many social responsibilities and we're constantly told of our deep internal connection to our fellow man. Judaism seems to eschew the idea of living isolated atop a mountain in Tibet.
So, while I sometimes think that I would be better off far away from the rest of the human race, I realize that in-truth, although many things obscure this, the similarities are actually far greater than our differences. And when I think about it, I must admit that why shouldn't I feel completely at odds with the guy sitting next to me? I certainly know that I would be completely at odds with the person I was, say, 10 years ago – shouldn't I give everyone else that same luxury? Often this feeling of isolation comes from, a perhaps subtle or subconscious sense of superiority. It's often the ego that wants to build an ivory tower for our personal opinions and look down at the rest of humanity with disdain for their pedestrian or unenlightened ideas. It reminds me of a story that I have thought of many times in my life:
There was a Chabad Chossid that came to America before the war. He didn't like this new modernity that he saw among chassidim, especially the dress and appearance that he felt was quite un-Chassidic. He was known to rant on about those who came to the USA and started wearing these fedora hats in place of the Russian kasket – indeed this was one of his pet peeves. But one day, to everyone's surprise, he showed up in the very object that he had scored – a brand new fedora hat. The others asked him how he could have such a change of heart after making is opinion to the contrary so well known! So, he answered them: The Rebbe Rashab had often said that one should not make himself too different from his peers, because doing so is ego – so, once he had made peace with the fact that the kasket was a thing of the past, he recognized that he must conform.
Similarly, although I do often find myself on a completely different page than virtually everyone that I know, I realize that I have no higher standing than the next guy. I may feel somewhat estranged perhaps – just as I hope to progress in life to have further developed my thinking to a point that I am estranged from my current ideas – but it's important that this doesn't just become one big ego trip…