5 (Very Jewish) Lessons I Learned from Cutting My Own Hair

It was 1:00 am, and I was done, just done. Done with screens and lights shining in my face. Done with trying to think of everything I might need or want from the grocery store and pharmacy for an entire week. (I gave up on the idea of planning for two weeks at a time a month ago.) Done with having a stagnant list of answers for a growing list of questions. But at this late hour on this particular night, all of my frustration had concentrated itself into one thing: My unruly, out of control, driving me crazy… hair.

It’s generally inadvisable to make rash decisions one cannot undo in the wee hours of the morning, especially decisions that involve scissors. I know. There is an entire professional force of stylists and hairdressers for a reason. In fact, when it comes to professionals I value for their experience and expertise, stylists are definitely in my top five — and not just any experience, but experience with my hair, which makes me a very loyal client. So I have only the highest respect and most profound appreciation for those who actually know what they’re doing in this field. (Even more so now!) But as I looked in the mirror, proverbial wrecking ball in hand, ultimately it was my confidence in their ability to eventually fix whatever damage I would do that emboldened me to take the plunge. That, and the ability of a flat iron to literally smooth over a multitude of sins. (Oh, if I could only return to middle school knowing then what I know now…)

So I did it. I cut my hair! And here’s what I learned:

(1) It wasn’t just about my hair, of course. But in a sea of variables I couldn’t control, this one had stood out. Maybe it was because salons were starting to open up and customers were able to avail themselves of that singular satisfaction of looking, and therefore feeling, like themselves again. I don’t begrudge anyone that experience. I trust stylists and customers are taking necessary precautions and we all have to determine how we are going to navigate our way through a sea of risk. But since I’m one of those with a suppressed immune system, the physical proximity of a haircut feels like a risk not worth taking for the foreseeable future, no matter how much I want one. (And I desperately wanted one!) So a haircut had become a reminder of all of the other risks it wouldn’t be worth taking — and it was weighing on me, literally.

One simple, self-actualized haircut, and that weight was lessened.

I have always found great power in the act of just doing something, one thing. I remember someone’s wise council when I once complained of feeling overwhelmed by a “to do list” a mile long. “So do something and cross it off,” she said. Ha, ha, I smirked, very funny. Why hadn’t I thought of that? But she was absolutely right. I did something, the easiest thing on the list, and as soon as I crossed it off I felt better. I felt energized and motivated to tackle item number two. It’s the same way Jewish tradition approaches observance. All of the strictures of a traditional Shabbat feel overwhelming? OK, start with lighting candles. Next maybe add Kiddush, challah. Then try unplugging your computer on Saturday; take a family walk. Halakha means “the way, the path.” A series of small steps, one foot in front of the other. Sometimes people call this just-do-something approach “baby steps,” but there’s nothing “baby” about them. Each one can be life-changing.

(2) No one noticed. Seriously, no one noticed. Not even the people I live with. Not even my mother. We are all doing everything we can right now to stay afloat, which is not to say we don’t care about one another — we absolutely do! People are making phone calls to check in, dropping off care packages, listening to one another as we take turns unloading the burdens of our anxieties and fears. We “see” one another. But for once — one of the shining spots of beauty in this challenging moment — we only see what really matters. Even as we scan from face to face on our screens, we don’t care what anyone looks like. I can’t remember a single outfit I’ve seen anyone wearing. I couldn’t tell you if someone who normally wears contacts had dug out an old pair of glasses. And it has honestly never occurred to me to notice (gasp!) if someone’s roots are showing. No one is paying attention to these things. They’re doing what we ask parents, grandparents, and little ones to do every Tot Shabbat: To look into each others’ eyes and see their neshama, their soulEveryone is looking past your outer shell, and it’s OK if you do, too.

(3) How did you do the back???” everyone (once I pointed out to them what I did) has asked. Answer: I have no idea. “But you can’t see back there!” they exclaim. Exactly, so who cares? God sees all and knows all, it’s true. But unless you’re Samson, I have it on pretty good authority that The Divine couldn’t care less about your hair. And since no one on Zoom can see the back of your head, it’s pretty much like it doesn’t exist right now anyway.

(4) Sometimes it’s good enough to go into something knowing you’re just going to do good enough. (Kind of like the grammar in that sentence.) One of my favorite teachings in the Mishnah pertains to getting rid of chametz before Passover: You do as thorough of a sweep — literally, with a feather — as you can, removing as much chametz as it’s possible to find; and then you burn it. Done. But what if you then see a rodent? asks the Mishnah. And what if that rodent came from a house that hadn’t yet been cleared of chametz? (Yes, in the Mishnah, the chametz is of greater concern than the rodent. I know… but stick with me.) And what if the rodent brought chametz into your ready-to-go-for-Passover house? One would think you might have to start your whole cleaning process over, right? Wrong! The Mishnah, with as much wisdom as I wager you will find anywhere in Jewish tradition, says: It’s good enough. Essentially, dayeinu. You did your best. You can’t control the rest. And if you tried to, it would never end. How’s that for a lesson for all seasons?

(5) Finally, and perhaps most importantly: When push comes to shove and we need to be, we are, each of us, far more capable than we realize. So whatever challenges this moment presents you with, know that you’re up to it. You got this! And there’s light (and a salon) at the end of the tunnel.

4 thoughts on “5 (Very Jewish) Lessons I Learned from Cutting My Own Hair”

  1. Reading through your essay reminded me of a book that I had read – a short book with lots to say, it’s called Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired). This book, if you don’t know about it already, came out of a graduation speech that he did many years ago. He used what he learned in boot camp as a metaphor for a successful life. The first thing that he learned was to make his bed every day. Like your list that was every growing and becoming cumbersome, all it took was to choose 1 thing, no matter how small, complete the task, and cross off the list. Success! The same with the start of this book, if you just make your bed every morning, then you will start your day having accomplished something. Might change a person’s perspective when they come home from an awful day, there was a success first thing. So, I’m now teaching the teacher, but I just wanted to share. Also to say that you are a brave woman – I would never take the chance to cut my hair. On the other hand, Gil has entrusted me with his head and while I see the imperfections of my work, he says that he doesn’t care because he can’t see the back of his head either! Maybe I could learn a thing or two from you both.

    Have a great summer – hope you take time for yourself and your family. I know that you were supposed to be on a short sabbatical and I hope that you are able to take advantage of at least some of what you had planned.



    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are always a source of wisdom, inspiration and spirituality for me.
    Everything you wrote all summed up concisely and beautifully in your last sentence. ps…I highly recommend my hair stylist. I hired her ever since Covid came upon us…albeit, a high price to pay..lol
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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