By Rivka Perlman

May 6, 2015

More Thoughts on Authenticity

The dangers of Inauthenticity.

Authenticity means being real with where you’re at, not trying to act the part of where you wish you would be. Just because something seems right on paper doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

You see this a lot with people who become religious. Their head knows that keeping all the laws of the Torah is the truth, so they dive in, their intentions are good. The only problem is, it may  not authentic for them to keep all the observances right away. Authentically, people need time to process change and to integrate new information. Authentically,  people need space to filter the voices and learn to recognize the value of their mentors without dismissing the value of their own intuition.

In Orthodox circles when someone becomes religious “too” quickly. How fast is too fast? That’s  different for each individual. For one person, changing their life over the course of a year is natural, for another it would be artificial. Now the truth is, that from the outside looking in, any change can seem drastic even when it’s healthy, because its threatening. But for those who charge ahead canceling out their inner voice instead of working with it, the fallout is anywhere from painful to tragic.

The painful part is the confusion. It’s taking a good look at who you are and admitting that you landed up in the middle of New Jersey when you were trying to get to New York. It’s actually a horrible feeling – because you look the part – dressing modestly or wearing a yarmulka but you don’t feel the part. The anxiety is overwhelming.

And it’s not that you don’t like the whole thing, you just need time to catch up with yourself.  A person like that is in a great position. They are feeling the effects of inauthenticity and they have the opportunity to take back their choices and reenter from a healthier place. I know people who started keeping Shabbos in its entirety right away and then needed to pull back and only keep part of it. This wasn’t because they didn’t believe in it but because they believed in themselves. They would make it to the summit not by being dragged but with the careful footsteps, one step at a time.

The tragic end of protracted  inauthenticity has much greater ramifications. There are those who are caught in the web of their own good intentions for decades. There comes a day when they can’t anymore. They throw it away and with that most often throw away the good too.

Their disillusionment has two culprits: The lesser culprit are  those who guided them in a path that wasn’t working for them.  The deeper issue lies within the person themselves, who who  betrayed their own voice and gave away their power to choose. We all do this to some extent and the result is what we call a Chilul Hashem.

A Chilul Hashem means “A space vacated from G-d.” The idea behind a Chilul Hashem is  that we are supposed to be Ambassadors of G-d. He is trusting us to emulate Him in this world and now we’ve created a vacuum, a space where there is not G-dliness.

I finally understand that those that have left the fold and speak out vociferously are not trying to be hurtful.  They are not bashing Judaism, they are not trying to be untruthful. They are simply crying “Why didn’t anyone hear me when I said, or couldn’t say, this isn’t me? Why have I been so let down, where once upon a time I wanted something pure and holy and now I have to turn my back on it because it hurts me too much.”

That’s how much living inauthentically hurts. And its not the system ( though sometimes it is and those people are responsible for the damage they do) it’s the individual and the pain that they are in.

And so the topic of authenticity grows. It grows in importance because lives are destroyed when we make decisions for other people and it grows in it’s scope because it turns out that being authentic is hard work.

It’s hard work because it’s work that you need to do on your own. No one else can know.  This is why when the spies in the Torah asked Moses permission to check out the land of Israel and he agreed to it,  he was still not held responsible for the mess they made of it.

He couldn’t have known. Even Moses was human and he took them at face value. But they were held responsible because they had the capacity to look inside and see what their motives were.

It’s also hard work because its uphill. If we don’t investigate our hearts and see what’s real for us the world will be all too happy to sweep us along in it’s agenda. And this is why inauthenticity leads to a Chilul Hashem. It’s a space where we don’t invite G-d.

Instead, we invite  fear of disappointing people and fear of change. When we introduce G-d into the picture and call out to Him in prayer, He is so often quick to send us answers. Helpful conversations start coming up, the right people come your way, you uncover  the courage you have to make the moves you need to make.

If diving into religious observance is one side of the coin, the other side may be even more true. How many times have you not expressed a spiritual yearning because of fear that you would sound too strange? And how many people would do more in their faith if only they allowed themselves the freedom to follow their soul. We are big. We are so big and yet we shrink ourselves to be normal, to maintain our standing and the expectations our friends and family have for us.

It takes authenticity and integrity to say “I can’t live like this anymore.” I want to learn more about G-d and what He wants from me.  Thousands have done it and have come back to their roots with the Ba’al Teshuva movement. And thousands more, all around the world, Jewish or not, are facing this trial with strength. I hear from people all the time who say” I don’t believe this anymore. I am searching for truth and I will not rest until I find it.” They are authentic in their search and they’re growth needs to be respected both for it’s realness and for it’s process.

The way I’ve been thinking about it, is that when we act inauthentically we are unwittingly compromising the gift of  Free Will. I’ve done this a thousand times, and I say this with compassion to myself and to all of us who slide into inauthenticity. When we base our choices on people pleasing we are letting ourselves become victims of circumstances. We are letting ourselves believe that we really have no choice. But choice is really all we have.

This past Shabbos I shared some of these thoughts and  we went around the table celebrating where in our lives we are living with authenticity. Our guest’s responses were stunning. They  came forth with strength  in their voice about difficult decisions they needed to make. Whether it was leaving a job because of unethical practices or becoming an aesthetician instead of an accountant; my husband shared, “I’m challenging myself to share my life with people even when it leaves me open and vulnerable.”

He’s right. It is a challenge. It’s an ongoing challenge to live life honestly and fully. But the courage that it takes bears fruit as each authentic choice leads to increasing revelation of your own, and G-d’s magnificence.

[reminder]In what way are YOU being authentic in your life? Inspire us![/reminder]

Do you want to contact Rivka Malka about coaching school?