Monday, May 25, 2009

Lazer's Advice Is Great... If you don't actually want to solve your problems

It's time once again for "Lazer Chat!" I've culled the best of Lazer's archives for some of his... let's be nice and call them quirkiest, blogging moments. Since many of them involve women, I've invited Shiksa Girlfriend along for the ride.

SG: Glad to be here. Well, not really.

First up, Lazer gives some advice to a woman that doesn't like loaning things to a neighbor-- though, in this case, the neighbor mostly seems to be sponging food, which I don't count as "borrowing" per se, given that she can't really return them in the way that you can, say, return a book.

Fear not, gentle readers. Lazer always knows the right thing to say:

The next time your neighbor shows up, invite her for a cup of coffee, sit her down, and explain that according to religious law, one who fails to return a loan is called a wicked person. All the crying and chest-beating in synagogue on Yom Kippur can't rectify the crime of one unreturned potato.

Me: Presumably, this is the point where your neighbor starts crying and asks to borrow your headscarf to blow her nose.

SG: The compasionate thing to do would be to tell her you recognize she has money troubles, not accuse her of stealing from you. Even better, this woman could take a page from Passover and only buy what she absolutely needs before Shabbos, then sign over whatever's left to the youngest daughter (preferably one that can't talk) over Shabbos, then truthfully tell the neighbor that she can't give her those eggs because SHE doesn't have any. Or maybe she should buy uglier clothes and sheitels to let her neighbor know they're poor.

Me: You're a wicked genius, sweetie. Back to Lazer:

Also, the Zohar says that a person cannot achieve his or her rightful place in heaven unless they've repayed all outstanding debts. A person must suffer an entire reincarnation for a debt of a few pennies or more, and who says that your next go-round on this earth isn't going to be twenty times worse that this go-round?

Me: So... repay your debts or the Zohar says you'll come back as, what, misbegotten eggs that people will borrow and then forget to repay?

SG: Even worse, eggs with blood spots that are useless for cooking!

Me: No brocha there. Seriously, Lazer, pulling out the reincarnation card? Over some eggs? Don't you want to save that one up for something a little more serious? Also, crap like this is why people think that the Kabbalah Centre is real Kabbalah, because nutjobs like you are always rambling on about the "real" crazy shit in the Zohar that sounds just as bizarre as anything the Bergs can pull out of their butts. I guess what I'm trying to say is that whole Madonna thing is your fault. So thanks.

Wait, there's more!

I am a 20-year-old college sophomore in the US, and lately I have been worrying about whether or not I am on the right path in life. I know I'm still young, but I feel I am ready to be married and start a family, and I live somewhere with very few Jewish males, none of whom are particularly religious. While I've always pictured myself as finishing college, lately I am not sure if this is the right thing to do. I was always an excellent student but lately I have been having a very difficult time finishing assignments because my mind is elsewhere, and even so, the liberal arts program I'm in is not likely to lead to many career opportunities.

Me: What will the great therapist-rabbi suggest? Should she see a counselor? Have a long heart-to-heart with her parents? Take a semester off? Re-evaluate her major?

SG: I don't think so...

Also, so unbelievably many random things keep going wrong, making it more difficult to continue in school, and I don't know whether to take this as a sign from Hashem that maybe I should head in a different direction, or just as another challenge in life to overcome. I don't want to waste any more time if this is not what I should be doing with my life, and end up unmarried, having wasted what should be an exciting time in life on unfruitful studes. Should I spend at least the next two and a half years finishing my BA degree, or is it time to change directions? I would greatly appreciate any advice you might offer. Thank you so much for your time.

Me: If she's sending out emails complaining about her unfruitful studes, I think the answer is to stay in school, or at least use Spell-Check.

Lazer says:

Good girl - you've done a good job of understanding the messages that Hashem has sent you. It's definitely time for you to seriously search for the right person and to raise a family.

Me: Based on what? She's only given you the most basic sketch of her problems? Maybe she needs to get together with a study group, or start volunteering somewhere that she gets satisfaction from.

SG: Also, the second year of any liberal-arts program at most colleges involves slogging through boring core classes to get to the good stuff. Don't email a stranger on the internet, meet with your advisor and blast through it so you can take classes you actually enjoy.

The restlessness in your soul is straight from Hashem. A liberal arts program in a university is a waste of your valuable time and money. As far as a livelihood goes, you can take one of many inexpensive aptitude tests available on the web, determine a skill you like, and then pursue a six-month occupational course, such as computers, graphic design, dental tech, or whatever.

Me: And lucky you, I just happen to have one available for you via my website. New "Laz-y Tests" will get your career jump-started in no time! Incidentally, if feeling conflicted about following a path is a "message" from Hashem and indicates that he wants you to quit what you're doing, then I guess Lazer can't be pissy about the millions of frum Jews that have gone off the derech over the past few thousand years-- they were just following their souls.

I recommend that you check out of university, move to an area where there are Jewish studies for women your age, and then simultaneously strengthen your Judaism and acquire an occupational skill.

Me: Well, I like the fact that he's at least encouraging her to work.

SG: That's so her husband won't have to.

On the other hand, my blue-chip advice for you would be to come to Israel, enroll in a women's seminar for Jewish Studies such as Midreshet Beerot Bat Ayin which I'm sure you'll love, or EYHAT (Aish Hatora women's seminary) or Neve Yerushalayim as possible alternatives. That way you'll be able to strengthen your Judaism and find the exact guy you want.

Me: Sorry, at what point did she indicate she wanted a yeshiva bochur, much less someone from the very impressive niche culture known as Chavakuk?

SG: I'm just imaging the look on her parents' face when she drops out of school to take a six-week course in the exciting world of dental hygiene. Nothing like giving yourself some options.

Up next, a female executive can't sleep at night.

I can't sleep at night, thinking about whether I've made the right decisions for my clients and the best for my company. I'm afraid of sleeping pills, but I'm so tired and edgy lately. My boyfriend terminated our relationship, complaining that my career monopolizes my time and strength.

Me: Whatever will Lazer say? She could... see a doctor, take some time off, try finding a psychologist, have some quality conversation time with a close friend, or any number of other stress-relieving techniques.

Oh, wow. That's surprising. Lazer mostly suggests that she exercise, drink tea, and listen to soft music before bed time. That's not bad at all, actually.

As bedtime approaches, curl up in bed with a glass of chamomile tea and your favorite book. I suggest you read The Garden of Emuna and The Trail to Tranquility. Soon, your eyelids will feel like barbells.

Me: Two things: A- keep on plugging that book; B- I like how even Lazer recognizes that his books are more effective than sleeping pills.

Lazer adds that the note-writer shouldn't feel too bummed out about the departed boyfriend.

You've been spending the bulk of your time in the fast lane of a highly competitive, demanding, and dry men's world with little compassion, so you need to return some femininity to yourself.

Me: Oh yes, Lazer, please do tell us how women can restore their femininity!

SG: Highly skeptical minds want to know.

Commit to the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles every week, and immediate after lighting the candles, ask Hashem for whatever you want. Also, learn how to bake challas. If your apartment had the smell of fresh-baked challas on Friday afternoon, no man in his right mind will ever let you go. By the way, I've never seen a divorce in a family that eats home-baked challas.

Me: Wow. Just... wow. So apparently if you can make bread, all your relationship problems will be solved. That's some pretty brilliant advice there, Lazer. You should have an infomercial or something.

SG: Actually, I think he's on to something. I learned how to bake challahs after our first month of dating, and you're still here.

Me: Ah, good point. Apparently the real problem is Gentile girls stealing our baked goods recipies, and thereby, our men.

Now we move on to a high school student with a swearing problem. Lazer opines:

The soul is surrounded by three garments - thoughts, speech, and deeds. When you use foul language, you surround your soul in stench, kind of like walking around with completely dirty underwear. Sounds gross? Foul words make your soul feel gross, and they chase away Hashem's Divine Presence, which means that a person who uses filthy language loses Divine guidance and protection. That's when real trouble in your life starts.

So, cursing is like wearing stinky drawers. All right, I guess I can understand that... but don't you think you could elevate the tone here a little, Lazer?

Remember also, a person with a cheap tongue is a cheap person. You certainly don't want people calling you "cheap" behind your back, especially since you're a quality young lady.

Yeah, you don't want people applying this random aphorism I just made up to you, do you?

People who use foul language are basically no better than pigs. Even if you dress them in in fancy clothes, pigs remain pigs. A person's speech is the showcase of a person's soul.

So, what about people that curse up a storm but do incredibly important and selfless things, like firefighters, police officers, etc.? Are they bad people? Pigs? I don't know about you, Lazer, but that sounds like some bull to me.

Here we have a Baalas Teshuvah (female "returnee" to Ortho Judaism) used to sleep around, then she had masectomies and became religious. She's totally happy and satisfied with her life now, except... well...

Ever since I did teshuva, I've been doing everything possible to cleanse myself of the old sins, including saying Tikkun Klali every day, being super meticulous in the modesty of my appearance and head covering, exacting about every detail of kedusha (holiness - LB) above and beyond the basic laws of family purity, even guarding my eyes from looking at other men. Yet recently, I've been getting nasty flashbacks of the past during my most intimate time with my husband. You can't imagine my anguish and sorrow. I've been begging to Hashem every day to wipe the images of other men and my old sinning self off of my heart.

Me: Hmm, I can't imagine why you'd be associating sexy time with your husband with past sexual expereiences! It's not like there's any emotional or mental connection between sex you used to have and sex you're having right now!

...nothing has helped. Am I so far from Hashem and teshuva that these flashbacks have returned to torment me? Why all of a sudden after a full two or three years that I didn't think about them?

Me: Having orgy flashbacks while having sex with your husband is not a sign that you are "far from God," lady, it's a sign that you haven't had a total memory wipe. Maybe you should spend your time trying to spice up your marital bed instead of endlessly fretting about your flashbacks.

I am really touched by your letter. Don't fret, everything is for the very best as you'll soon see. Not only does Hashem love you, but I guarantee you that you are one of His favorite daughters.

Me: Nice unsubstantiated pablum there.

SG: Yeah, I don't know you, but trust me, God likes you.

First, you ask about the nasty flashbacks, "Why all of a sudden after a full two or three years that I didn't think about them?" Rebbe Nachman of Breslev explains this clearly in Likutei Moharan (Part 1, Torah 25), namely, that when a person ascends to a higher spiritual level, he is bombarded with lusts and/or fantasies that he thought he had already overcome.

Me: How convenient!

SG: And... nonsensical?

True, at your previous spiritual level, you had overcome the old garbage and had properly done teshuva. But, at your new spiritual level, you have to do more hard work to further cleanse the tiny blemishes that are still on your soul. In simple terms, you're now playing in a higher, more demanding league. You think you have digressed, but the opposite is true. You have made and are making fabulous spiritual progress.

Me: This "God Tests you because He Loves you" stuff really rubs me the wrong way. Isn't this sort of like saying, "You worked hard your whole life to overcome the adversity you faced by being born with only one foot. Now you're middle-aged and have cancer. Wow, we sure can tell God loves you!"

SG: Theodicy isn't supposed to make sense. You know that.

Second, you anguish in seeing these nasty flashbacks is in itself a lofty form of teshuva. When they actually happened, you wantonly enjoyed every minute of what was going on. Now, when you see the same images, you are deeply disgusted and embarrassed. Rest assured that your anguish and embarrassment are better than a beautiful sin offering in the altar of our Holy Temple, may it be rebuilt soon, amen.

Me: Um, yeah... High five?

SG: Better than a Temple offering? Really? Based on what? That seems like a really obscure comparison to make.

Me: Last one. Here we have Lazer speaking to a new mother-in-law about minding her own business. I like the general spirit of the response, but somehow Lazer always manages to throw some random commentary in there that makes no sense:

From my experience, the only emotional ordeal more difficult than one's first year in the army is one's first year in marriage. Marriage demands that two totally opposite beings - a man and a woman - mesh together in harmony. That's not an easy task, and every single couple on earth has problems.

Me: Uh, Lazer, this just in: men and women are not totally opposite. In fact they share a lot of things in common, both in terms of biology (let's hear it for being able to perpetuate the species, unlike say, a monkey and a duck) and psychology or personality. In fact, many people have told SG and I that we are so alike it's creepy.

SG: Yeah Lazer, you're making it sound like every relationship is an Odd Couple rip-off involving Nessie and Sasquatch.

Me: How do they make it work?

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