Nowadays if you ask someone if they are “faithful,” they will most likely only think of adultery and its lack. A much expanded idea of faithfulness has been on my mind, though, a more positive idea of faithfulness as not just a lack of something, a lack of sexual infidelity, but as an abundance of something else that maybe we no longer have a word for.
Commitment? My mind fumbles to translate, looking for a word in English to fit the concept, working to capture it in letters and solidify it.
Yes, commitment comes close. We live in a world of disposable everything, from silverware to people. We meet and make friends and then lose them as our interests change or our physical locations shift. We are nomads with nomadic hearts and minds, ever wandering, shifting, and reforming. We like to consider this flexibility and freedom, but is it? Does it really bring us the happiness that we expect to come from freedom?
Experts talk of a world more connected to each other than ever, of information passing around the globe at the speed of light, and yet…we’re a lonely people looking for a home. Our modern, technologically connected world, has left us feeling more disconnected from each other. Our internet has become our desert, full of grains of sand blown by the wind around us as bits of information, but still empty of meaning for all that information.
“It’s easier being single and just having fun. It’s too hard to find a good man,” my friend laments, sighing. I can’t help but agree looking at the men that seem to be her portion to choose from. Yet, I also know men looking and not finding connection. Even I, just looking for friendships, have problems meeting people that I can really connect with deeply. I don’t envy those looking for even more.
Faithfulness…it feels like it’s what everyone is searching for, yet doesn’t want to give in exchange.
There’s so much fear that it won’t really be reciprocated, that we must hold back from fully committing to anything, whether it’s a job, a friendship, a marriage, or even our relationship with G-d. There are so many messages telling us not to go too quickly, not to fall too deep, not to give all of ourselves because that will lead to getting hurt.
“Be in a relationship, but be your OWN woman.”
“Work for a company, but put YOUR career first.”
“Be religious, but not TOO religious. Don’t go off the deep end!”
As a result, we live half-in, half-out of so much, never fully giving all of ourselves to anything or any one. Yet, we yearn for that kind of faithfulness in return. We yearn for a spouse that will look at us as if we’re the only person in the world. We wish for an employer that would invest in us and believe in us. We pray for real spirituality, for real connection with something bigger than ourselves. We don’t realize that all these things can only happen if we are fully committed, if we take the leap of faith despite the fear of getting hurt.
If we dive off the deep end without a backup plan.
Orthodox Jewish conversion demands that leap of faith. It’s a crazy concept to abandon everything you’ve known before and commit to a process that has no set timeline and no uniform process, never knowing when or if you’ll reach the end, but I think that very act of taking that leap is there to teach me something important. Living a life according to Torah requires that level of commitment, faithfulness, and trust in G-d. It’s that faith that allows a Jew to keep Shabbat even if it appears that will mean he can’t keep a job. He trusts that the job will come, somehow. It’s that kind of faith that allows a Jew to cover her hair, even as the world around her condemns it or tries to tell her it isn’t really necessary. It’s that faithfulness that keeps a Jew keeping kosher, even if no other Jew is anywhere to be seen.
Joining a covenant can’t be done without commitment and faithfulness to that commitment.
Faithfulness isn’t just avoiding doing something wrong, but choosing, each day, to make choices that affirm your commitment. In a marriage, it means choosing to love your spouse and work on the relationship every day even when the romantic feelings ebb and flow. In conversion, it means getting up each day and working on the mitzvos, even when you’re feeling discouraged or hopeless and even knowing that without obligation, your reward for doing so is lessened. You do it because you made a commitment. The born Jew does it because he or she has accepted that they were born into a covenant.
Similar to today’s society, gentiles are born with greater freedom and can choose whether or not they want to be part of the covenant. For some of us, we discover that freedom is actually our desert and that we’ll only find our ultimate fulfillment through the bonds of faithfulness to a commitment we make to join a covenant. Like some prefer casually dating to settling down in marriage, but others just are never satisfied until they enjoy the security of a lifelong bond with another person, even with all the small conflicts and complications that can bring. Those people find their lives richer for the relationship.
I’ve struggled with faithfulness before in my conversion journey. I’ve struggled with fear when it seemed like so much was being asked of me and I didn’t feel I was up to the sacrifice. Now, I focus on taking on less and slower, but being faithful to whatever I do take on. I rush less to add mitzvahs, but I strive to be consistent and faithful when I do add them. I strive to be a better part of my relationship with G-d.
Perhaps…we all can learn to be more faithful?