The Traditionalist Vs. The Rebel

This post is built off of a series of status updates I have been sharing on Facebook.  So it might look familiar.  Don’t worry, keep reading.

There are two kinds of rebels:

1. The rebel whose identity is wrapped up in rebelling. If his rebellion succeeded, he would either be sad or would move on to another rebellion. This rebel cares more about rebelling than about any particular mission.

2. The rebel who is attached to a larger cause. If his rebellion succeeded, he would dance in the streets because he would be so grateful that he no longer needs to fight.

If we want to rebel, we first need to know which one we are.

There are also two kinds of traditional people:

1. The kind who keep tradition because they are “supposed to”. They’re the ones that compete to see who is the most traditional, who is the most “authentic”. To this person, tradition exists for itself. It’s its own end.

2. The kind who keep tradition because they understand it is a connection to a deeper “why”. To them, tradition doesn’t exist for itself, but for a larger truth. And while they may not understand it all, they keep it because they are humble enough to know they don’t have all the answers. But that never stops them from trying to find those answers.

For those of us who choose to go down the road of tradition, we need to continuously introspect to discover which kind we are.

And then there are the others.

The ones who have transcended definition.  The people who you can’t pin down as rebels or “traditionalists”.  Or you try to, and then they squirm out from that definition by doing exactly the opposite of what you would have expected from them.

I’ve only known of one person who truly embodied this reality.

It’s so hard to reach this level of existential nirvana because we want so badly to stick ourselves into a category.  We are externally-focused, and so we feel that external categories will provide us some sort of solace.

But the truth is that what separates the second category of the rebel and the traditionalist from the first category is that they are focused on the “why” of life.  They understand that their identity is sublimated to something bigger.  To their cause.

But still, they have these external identities that they’ve wrapped around themselves like warm blankets to keep them protected from realizing how often they are doing things wrong.

Which is fine.   We’re all like that, aren’t we?

But the problem is when we become satisfied with that.  The problem is when we’re happy with being rebels, even if we understand it’s for something bigger.  Because there’s still a part of ourselves that revels in being a rebel.

Rebellion, tradition.  As much as we want to think of them as identities they are really actions.

We aren’t rebels and we aren’t traditionalists.  We are people trying to live with a “why” (hopefully).  When we fight against our external identity and run towards our internal Higher Truth, we will finally live a life worth living.

Until then, we’re just living someone else’s script.

  • Hymie

    In the photo it looks like the same person. There’s room for both.

  • Shoshannah

    OK so what do you do if you’re a why person who seems to constantly clash heads with those who are not open to any discussion unless you agree with them? To the point where they are, whether they know it or not, actually harming others with an extremely judgmental disposition that by definition is bigotry?

    • Rebecca K.

      It’s pointless to directly “converse” with such people, because it becomes a monologue on their part. The best way–IMHO–to handle such people is to live your life around them as a “why” person, a “truth” person, and handle conversations with others around them with respect. They may eventually pick up something through osmosis.

      • Shoshannah

        Todah Rebecca and I am so grateful you said that way because it’s what I’ve been trying to do in the last few months. It’s made a huge difference in me, and it has built my conversation circles because I’m no longer carrying around their negative energy with me. I believe it is very important to remind ourselves the damage we cause to ourselves by listening to lashon hara. It made me a very depressed person for a long time. And I believe that is why so many “my way or the high way” thinkers are so miserable all the time. That’s sad but like you said, maybe osmosis works more than we know. Maybe we don’t need to know when it does because gratuity isn’t the point. I also think they’re very scared individuals – for whatever their personal reasons. B’H for this post.

        • Tuvia

          Fundamentalist religions are guilty of this “my way or the highway” problem – literally discussing people who are not on the right highway as OTD.

  • Fascinating post! Much to think about, about where I fit in those categories and why.

    Interesting that you list the Lubavitcher Rebbe as the person who you think transcended the categories. For me, the Kotzker Rebbe has come to provide a role model of someone who taught rigorous adherence to traditional halakha, but also encouraged extreme individualism and rebellion against what he saw as the complacency and habitual nature of much of Jewish life. I find this interesting because in many other respects Chabad and Kotzk are quite different.

  • I feel like it could be hard to put a rebel in one box or another, since very few rebellions ever pan out in the lifetime of the individual rebels working towards the overall goal, so there’s no real way to tell whether they’re doing it for the sake of rebelling or to get a product out of the rebellion.