Lady Gaga and the Counting of the Omer
by Menucha Levy
While half-heartedly screening the 53rd Annual GRAMMY awards this year, when Lady Gaga debuted her newest hit single Born this Way, I dismissed the lyrical lore (“There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are, ’cause He made you perfect/I’m beautiful in my way, ’cause G-d makes no mistakes“) as more gag-able Gaga-mania, and found myself focusing on the fashion. I hadn’t actually listened to this chart-topping (allegedly horrifying) song until a few weeks ago when a video of the cast of Glee performing the number on the episode Born this Way went viral. Much as I hate to admit evoking any sort of emotional outcome from the small screen, truth be told, it happens more often than not, and Glee’s Born this Way gig surprisingly got me going. I found it to be shockingly raw, honest, and inspiring! But was it… right?
As a young woman and mother I find it rather rational to stay fresh and front-and-center of the young world we live in. While that song is embodying the many terrifying sicknesses (and I mean sicknesses!) of our generation of youth, when iTunes sells one million copies of a hit single in five days, there are bound to be social repercussions. One million youth, one week, one song – there’s no denying it; that’s major. Whether these kids think they are listening to the words or just moving to the beat really makes no difference at all – this song will inevitably become something they identify with, a freedom-anthem of sorts. And that worried the hell out of me.
I spent the week after that obsessing over the whole bit. I couldn’t stop thinking about whether the concept in general was right or wrong and how I could feel so inspired by something so disgustingly vulgar. Mostly though, I couldn’t stop wondering if those ideals would make for a better or worse American future. Is being happy and proud of our flaws and deficiencies something to teach our children? Is “owning it” really the way to go? If not, why did I find this piece so real, so liberating? They had a teacher own-up to her OCD diagnosis and face the fact that she’d need some meds, while a high school boy took pride in coming out of the closet and choosing to be proud and live with who he was. I didn’t really get the polar opposite outcomes… own it to live it, or face it to fix it? It makes a life of a difference!
However awfully disturbing the general implication of this song may be, the fact is – it’a what kids are listening to. And I don’t doubt for a moment that the folks at Fox Studios have managed to inspire some other young things, as they had inspired me, with the musical proclamation of personal pride. I was inspired because I found it fabulous that this song was magically able to lend courage and pride to someone who felt flawed by, say, a jewish nose. Being tone deaf, redheaded, or toweringly-tall can suddenly become not just bearable but an honorary uniqueness! What a wonderful message to send to iPods across America! My issue was the limit. Where would the line be drawn? While we might desperately want our daughters to be proud of their figures, their faces, and their features, I don’t think we’d as easily tell them to be proud of, say, their laziness. I just can’t see myself convincing my son to be proud of his anger. In fact, I would hate to know that there is a song blaring on his earbuds transporting messages of easy self-satisfaction, of complacency, of perfection.
Every morning I thank G-d for the fact that I, as a Jew, have been blessed with a guide to Life; the Torah. Most days I mouth this daily blessing out of mere routine, but there are times, like this week, when I actually feel graced to have access to the greatest form of spiritual and ethical guidance. Judaism is, after all, all about personal improvement, and therefor I knew being proud of a flaw was not a means to an end. In the Torah portion of Vayikra (Lev. 5:5) Hashem gave us the gift of Teshuvah (returning) – a way to be forgiven. In his book Mishneh Torah, the Rambam (Maimonedes) lay it out for us step-by-step: Stop (the commission). Regret (the act). Verbalize (what one did wrong). Make a plan (not to do it again). Within this form of spiritual healing G-d taught us that to truly move on we must face what we did. After all, there can be no confession when we see no mistake. My peace of mind began to materialize as I slowly came to the realization that this, all of this “owning it”, is wonderful – when looked at in a series of steps. Identifying a flaw is the first step to fixing it! And while 2011 was not, in fact, the year of that discovery – hopefully for many young Americans; it was.
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote in the book HayomYom that the true way to know your character is by truly recognizing your own deficiencies and your own good qualities. He went on to say that once you identify your deficiencies you must then go on to correct them with actual work; and not just satisfy yourself with merely groaning about them.
While one might come to the conclusion that this message is great with regard to sole physical matter, the lines can still be hazy. The bottom line is, it must be viewed as a process; the first step – even with regards to a mere physical aspect. Feeling proud for the moment is lovely, but it will take real effort and work to actually internalize that pride. Owning your character flaws may be liberating, but taking control of bettering them will be intensely strengthening.
During these weeks of counting Sefirah (and consequently studying the Sefirot), I re-visited a place inside myself that has been dormant for a while, lost in a heap of dishes, diapers, play-dates, and date-nights; I re-discovered change. These past weeks, when coming to face the many attributes of G-d, the world, and my soul, I came to realize just how much more effort I can put in to my very being; from my secret inner emotions to my outward personality. There is so much to improve upon, and so many ways to change and to grow. This is something that makes me feel blessed. A time of year specifically set aside to scan and comb my character traits. It’s a method of taking account of the flaws, failures, and strengths of my own personality. Looking inside myself in this way will no doubt help me identify, heal, and improve. And that is pride in the making. Work. Effort. These are the words I want to impart to my children… We may have been born this way, but as people with soul we have the power to rewrite our “life script” – to change.
But, I guess for now, I should be glad they can at least identify step one: Own it.