I Hope to be… Maladjusted?

Oct 12, 2022

בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כָּל־הָאֶזְרָח בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשְׁבוּ בַּסֻּכֹּת׃

You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Yisrael shall live in booths,

Leviticus 23:42

By Elie Mischel

On December 19, 1963, Martin Luther King gave an unusual speech at Western Michigan University. He said: “Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life – we all want the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis and schizophrenic personalities. But I say to you, my friends, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry…  In other words, I’m convinced that there is need for a new organization in our world: the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment…”

The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines “maladjustment” as the inability to maintain effective relationships, function successfully in various domains, or cope with difficulties and stresses. But in Dr. King’s brilliant twisting of the term, “maladjusted” is no longer a term for emotional instability, but rather a description of those who actively refuse to mindlessly adopt the views and mores of the majority! To be “maladjusted” means that you have deeply held convictions and the strength of character to swim against the tide!

This week, the people of Israel are celebrating the holiday of Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, when we leave our homes and dwell in booths:

“You shall live in booths for seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the children of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I Hashem your God.” (Leviticus 23:42-43)

What is the goal of this holiday? I believe that God commanded us to observe Sukkot to ensure that we remain “maladjusted!”

Life has a way of putting us to sleep. I don’t mean that literally (though I often wish I could crawl back into bed!), but rather figuratively; the day to day busyness of work and family life keep our minds occupied and focused on simply getting through each day. When we finally have a few minutes of free time, whether early in the morning or late at night, it’s only natural to want to do what the great majority of normal Americans do – have a leisurely cup of coffee, watch some TV or read a novel, and just relax.

But this isn’t the way of a believer! Over and over again in the Bible, God commands us to overcome our natural selfishness, and become great and holy people! We believe that God created us and placed us in this world for a reason – that we have a higher calling. If you think about it, the entire thrust of a Bible lifestyle is to ensure that we remain maladjusted!

You’re exhausted after a long week of work and just want to relax with your family? Sorry Charlie – Godly people must open the doors of their homes to the stranger, to the orphan and the widow!

Still, the pressures of daily life make it very easy to forget our higher purpose. And so God has given us the gift of the holiday of Sukkot – to ensure that we remain maladjusted!

The holiday of Sukkot takes place in autumn; it is also known as the Chag Ha’Asif, “The Harvest Festival” of the people of Israel. After spending all summer working like a dog in the hot and sweaty fields, planting, weeding, watering and hoeing, the Israeli farmer can finally take a deep breath; he has reaped his crops, and now he can relax!  And it is at this very moment, when all the farmer wants to do is sit in his easy chair, watch a good football game and drink some beer – at this very moment, the Bible commands him to leave his home and live in a booth for seven days! It is as if God is saying: “Thou shalt be maladjusted!”

By leaving our comfortable homes for seven days, we awaken our souls; we shatter the day-to-day monotony of life and remember that God placed us here on earth for something far greater than football! In other words, we become blessedly maladjusted!

The holiday of Sukkot is also known as “Chag Simchateinu”, the “Holiday of our Joy.” For by sitting outside in temporary booths, we consciously embrace our calling – to live a life of devotion to God! And this actually brings us joy!

I wish everyone a truly joyous – and maladjusted! – holiday of Sukkot!

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