I continue with the policy that states even half-formed thoughts and incomplete essays may be aired out.
Years ago, when I first stepped upon the path of becoming more religiously observant, I had a near-subconscious message I was carrying to G-d: I know Your truth, I accept Your truth, I live by Your truth and make the necessary sacrifices... and You, in return, give me peace, happiness and a clearly defined road for the rest of my life.
Need I say that it does not work this way?
Not long ago I listened to a lecture by a rabbi who said something which rang very true with me. He said, "when a person first begins the path of religious observance, G-d helps him. He gets encouragement. He gets unexpected support from places he didn't even dream of... but a little later down the road, G-d begins to test him. He asks: do you worship Me, or do you worship My religious community?
And there I hung my head in shame. Because, yes, at the beginning of my road the religious community seemed very very appealing (and in many ways it still is), and I very much wanted to fit in with it and leave behind any problems of our wider society such as promiscuity, divorce, late singleness, etc. In a way it worked. I got married when I was 22 and had my children at 23 and 25; I now live in a (mostly) religious settlement, fit in as an integral part of it, have people over for dinner/lunch/occasional visits, host play dates, cook meals for women who had recently given birth, and compare tips on how to tie tichels.
But I also realize now that fitting in with a community is not all, perhaps not even most; that religious communities, especially small ones, may, and do, have their own flaws, such as hipocrisy, gossip, holier-than-thou attitudes, and what I call "womb whispers" ("Is she pregnant? She must be pregnant. What, she still isn't pregnant? Isn't it about time she was? Do you know if she has a problem? Should we pray for her?") (my answer to all of the above would be, it's a private matter unless one of the directly concerned personally confided in you)... however...
... a community/congregation/branch of faith is not G-d and should not be viewed as such. Marriage, children, family, education, work, projects, a way of life, all of these are important things... but not something to worship.
There were times when I grew very bitter. I said to G-d, "I know what You offer is true, but sometimes I wish I had never found out. I wish I could just have gone on with my life the way it suited me." I did not really mean it then, and I don't think so now, but what I did grow to realize is this: I need to distinguish between what G-d commands, and what society dictates (just a recent example: G-d asks for a chametz-free house before Pesach. Society expects clean windows and newly painted walls. Therefore, the burden is social expectations, not a harsh and demanding G-d).
And this question still rings in my ears: do you worship Me, or do you worship those who follow Me?
Do you worship an idea? A dream? An ambition? A person/group of people? A famous teaching? Are you driven by greed, lust, selfishness, pride?
Do you worship anything but Me?