So I wrote this a month ago…it’s amazing how much the holidays take out of you! So, all of this is a month old and much has happened since. But if I post this, maybe I’ll be way more on track about this Blog.
You have no idea how much of my ‘Torah’ – the spiritual knowledge and learning that I possess – comes from fiction books. OK, maybe you’re aware of just how much, but it comes as an ongoing shock to me. So, as we wind our way through the stories of Joseph – wives, sons, betrayal, trust, respect, dreams, God, relationships, love – nothing quite like the drama of the Joseph stories – I find myself thinking of one of my favourite novels. This girl has a bunch of distant ‘cousins’ that she grows up with. They are all boys. Everyone expects her to marry one of them. One is very handsome, one is very successful, one is a bit of a bookworm, one is very rich, and the other four are probably too young but you never know. To spoil the plot completely, she marries the bookworm, much to the shock of her entire family. When he asks her why she picked him, she says “you were so brilliant and so kind and so steadfast – I couldn’t help but love you.” He replies, “you told me that for you, marriage was about love, respect, and trust – since I didn’t have your love, I set about winning your respect and trust. I’m so glad the love followed!”
So, since I wrote about love last time, I think it only appropriate I revisit respect and trust. I’ve written about trust before, but that’s no reason to stop now. I wanted to look at how Judaism deals with trust and honesty. Judaism isn’t as big on honesty as one might think. That’s what I found fascinating in my reading. People, good people, venerable people, cheat and lie and that’s not necessarily portrayed as a bad thing. Lying to keep peace is practically a commandment. With honesty at such a low, what does Judaism say about trust? Oh, that they position quite highly – but not based on honesty, from what I can tell. More, I see it as based on loyalty.
In Judaism, fierce loyalty – to God, to the Jewish people, to an idea, to family – is prized very highly. This, of course, creates all sorts of silliness about change. The Jews I’ve met aren’t big on change. Often, even if they change something, they then bing-bang-boom go right back to the way they’ve been used to doing it. We love that consistency.
It makes for a weird set-up. For instance, I’ve seen films about people discovering that they’re gay, after being married and having many children. What to do? It’s OK, it seems, to lie about coming home late and your reasons for that. It is NOT OK to leave your family. I’m not saying the commandments say that, or that a Rabbi would advise it, but I am saying that that’s what the feel of the culture is to me. It certainly seems that way in the Torah, near the end of Genesis, where all sorts of negative behaviours are permitted (from Joseph tattling on his brothers to Tamar faking being a prostitute and so on) – but separating family is so wrong as to have huge shattering consequences.
I can see that being useful in building a marriage – fierce loyalty gives one a feeling of safety, of security that no matter how bad things get, the relationship will continue. I can also see the downside. Sometimes a marriage is just not useful. If one is loyal to a bad relationship, one might find oneself trapped. Sometimes, change is necessary and healthy. The flip side – a limited attachment to honesty – isn’t all good either. Sometimes, when the lies are discovered, the betrayal breaks the family up anyway, and tragedy ensues. (These are the Dinah weeks, and there is nothing good to say around that story.)
For me, trust is indeed the basis of relationships. I need to know that words like “steadfast, dependable, loyal, trustworthy” can be used about me in a relationship. For me, the purpose of a relationship is in part a safety net. So, I need to know, when things go wrong, can I depend on someone to catch me? Can I know that if I complain, fuss, fret and worry, someone will (probably laugh at me – God can have quite the wicked sense of humour, like the day I got 4 separate tax notices from the government, all wanting money – but also) tell me that things will be OK, and that they will be there whether things are OK or not? I also need at least some of that honesty. When the lies are exposed, it makes it hard to have any trust in the future. Honesty and loyalty are the bases of trust for me. If I have that trust, I know my relationship is worth having and my love, like the love of the novel’s heroine, is worth giving. If I don’t have that trust, my love will fade too. I look for the relationships where I can say, “they set about winning my respect and trust – I’m so glad that love followed.”