desperate man with television on his head

Television Feeds My Soul

When I want to fly above reality’s grunge, I turn to Judaism.  The buzzwords of weeknight Torah lectures fill my head with a dizzying gratitude high.  Kadosh.  Ahavas Yisroel.  Moshiach incoming.  Daven Daven Daven.  Concealed in everything, all evil is actually good.  Hashem is all good. Snort up that goodness like cocaine and ride on it, fly on it all day as you thank and thank and thank Hashem.

When the goodness fades, withdrawal pounds the brain.  No more kadosh endorphins; in place optimism buzzkills.  Moshiach is late.  A “kodesh” nation eats itself.  Banned the gays.  Condones the rape of lesbians. Looks at the women in the mikvah then goes home to study Talmud.  Is it davening for Moshiach in between its sin?

Where’s my geulah? It’s not in the words of the visiting Torah scholars, full of searing, blinding hope.  It’s not in the small talk of the shul about new kitchens and aging sheitels. It hides at home, a click on the screen.  I find my comfort in the smoothness of chromebook screen: BoJack Horseman.  Talking, clinical depressed horses tell me life is harsh.  That the world is full of broken people breaking people, and my mother will suffer dementia and my friends will have or have had miscarriages and it is all desperation and sadness and darkness but no no no we still have the light, we have the light of our actions, of our choices.

G-d is cruel but we are not.  I cry out my anger to G-d, my sadness to G-d.  Where is my “kadosh”, where is my all-benevolent G-d?  I cry, and in my tears I move closer.  Honest tears, not the tears of a worshiper bowing before heartless all-perfect stone.  Tears of a betrayed lover.  Tears of the abandoned daughter.  I move closer because I am angry.  I move closer because I have a broken heart.

I don’t want my G-dly feeling to come from BoJack Horseman, from a dark story forged from a weird agnostic Hollywood Jew.  I don’t want this.  BoJack isn’t holy, BoJack isn’t Torah. Torah is my life guide, my savior.  I return to Torah.  I return to shul.  To lectures on the chassidus of chametz and eternal neshamas.  The love we feel for Hashem.  Oh Hashem who gives us everything and denies us nothing that is good.  Oh Hashem who is all-powerful all-good.  Oh Hashem how we prostrate ourselves before you Glorious One o Eternal One. Daven Daven Daven, yira yira yira.  Inject the yira into my veins and give me the radiance of fervent believer.  Give me the high of a fervent believer.

But I’m sinking, sinking, my body slumping into the abyss.  I drive through the “heroin” zone of town every day.  I work in the desiccated communities.  Their money taken, their hope nearly crushed.  Why does G-d hate American minorities? Why are they in prisons and in rat-infested housing here? What sins did entire ethnic-cultural groups commit to be imprisoned, robbed of money and education, shot down for simply existing? What’s G-d’s beef, what’s G-d wrath for them? What is this- the sobered up believer asks.

Where’s my answers? It’s not in the world of the Shabbos prayer service, nor my parsha commentary books.  It’s not in the shul rabbi’s welcoming smile, nor the big kiddush meal.  Maybe if I dig deep into my parsha and halacha books, I will discover them.  Dig so deep and so far that I will strike a well underground.  Just keep digging, just keep going.

But I don’t have the time or patience to keep digging and going, and anyhow no one ever taught me the Torah has commentary on the systematic oppression of minorities, of education inequity, of lead-water neighborhoods that poisons kids’ minds and bodies and make them angrier and weaker and slower and then sends them to prison for the very traits we literally fed them day after day by fucking poisoning them.  When will the stories of our forefathers give me the solutions to these unyielding horrors?  When will the schools-to-prison pipeline end in redemptive glory like that of Joseph’s tale?

Torah’s supposed to be my guidebook, my manual for life.  It tells me about Shabbos and lashon kodesh.  It tells me to fix the world. But it doesn’t tell me *how* to fix the world.  It won’t tell me *how* Hashem is all-benevolent, the step-by-step behind the luminescent rhetoric.  Torah won’t tell me how anything works.  But TV will.  Stupid, mind-numbing tv.  It opens the door to the darkness within.

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Darkness, irreparable darkness. Pitch-black darkness where G-d is silent and hidden… That’s TV, not Torah.  My Torah speaks with the force of the living G-d, mouthless yet speaking, lungless yet breathing.  In TV there is no wrathful G-d, no kindly G-d.  Only the mental concept of G-d.  Only the inner dialogue of a person trying to do right based on their abstract concept of G-d.

Do I lie about where I live to give my child a good and safe education, asks Jane the Virgin?  How do I live morally alongside my abusive parent, asks BoJack?  Can I accept responsibility for a crime I didn’t commit as a means of doing teshuva for those I got away with, asks Crazy Ex Girlfriend?  How do I love G-d when He created me a broken vessel, my cracks as prone to dribbling harsh words and emotional violence as the infant to crying, the winter leaf to falling?

Torah, or perhaps my real-world experience of Torah, will neither give me the answers nor acknowledge the inner turmoil of the questioner.  Maybe Elisha Ben Abuya will, maybe Job will.  But they are not enough, so far from enough.

And when Elisha’s heretical cry of “this is Torah and this is its reward?” is not enough, when Job’s “I will give voice to the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” is not enough, there still lingers the muffled cries of my fictional characters.  They don’t see the eternal kadosh of the G-d filled world.  They see the moral gray, the questions that stories of Avraham and Yitzchak don’t clearly answer.  Do I cover up for my undocumented neighbor regardless of whether she broke the law? How much forgiveness can I offer to the mentally-ill friend that has a pattern of manipulating me? There is no yellow brick road, no G-d voice on the mountain telling us the truth this time.

They’re mourners too, just like me.  Mourning the paradox of benevolent and all-powerful G-d  Mourning the paradox of good and evil when they live in a world shaded with grays.  Observe, Hashem, these fragile humans- so much more than g-dly sparks encased in clumsy meat suits.

These fictions, these mind-creations voice the pain and betrayal felt towards the Eternal that no real Jew yet talks about at the Shabbos meal, at “inspiring” Torah lectures.  Why did you take the life of my husband, my daughter?  Why did you shoot down my child in the dead of night, then give honor to his murderer? Why Hashem, where’s my justice Hashem, where’s benevolence Hashem?

#Blacklivesmatter hides in TV, drug cartel refugees hide in TV, Syria hides in TV.  The moral of immoral decisions lurks inside my TV.  False, chromebook humans take the less-than-perfectly-righteous path, whether it’s arranging a false marriage to give someone citizenship or putting their dementia-addled mother in a home to prevent her from inflicting further harm on others.

Torah is my inspiration.  BoJack Horseman is my raw, grieving soul.  G-d is cruel.  I scream at G-d and in my wrath, I too become g-dly, the holy manifestation of the righteous rage one needs to change the world.