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Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
There are two more aspects of Jewish consciousness worth discussing. The first one came to my attention while I was talking to some of my students. Midway through our conversation it became obvious to me that they didn’t know whether the story of Purim took place before or after the story of Chanukah. Some of them didn’t know that Yocheved and Miriam were related, and how they were related.
Which American doesn’t know the story of little red riding hood? How about the story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree? Part of being an American requires knowing both the significant and trivial parts of its heritage. Part of being in the Torah community requires one to also know its heritage.
To illustrate this point, consider what happens when one has a causal encounter with a group of individuals. They begin discussing a topic that’s of interest to them and of which they’re quite knowledgeable. However, you have little interest or knowledge of that topic and find yourself left out, unable to contribute to the discussion.
During the early part of the conversation you may have tried to contribute, even if it was only to avoid feeling left out. After a few minutes it became obvious to you that you couldn’t say anything intelligent. You became lost and felt as if no one even noticed you. Your only option was to slowly distance yourself from the group.
Without a broad base of Jewish knowledge, which comes from a healthy mixture of Chumash, Navi, Halacha, and Midrash, Jewish individuals also feel left out of Judaism. They don’t know when to dress in a certain way, what or how to Daven and, on specific days, what to say when they greet others. They feel the need to distance themselves from those that that are comfortable with Yiddishkeit. Eventually they’ll have distanced themselves from anything having to do with a Torah lifestyle.
The second one is a more “advanced” part of Jewish consciousness. By advanced I mean that it’s a thought that will be appreciated by those looking to “grow”, and rejected as “extreme” by those who are stagnant, in their Torah lifestyle. Consider the following two stories:
The first is about a man who was coming home early from Shul, on Shabbos morning, after Davening at a V’sikin Minyan (where Shemona Esrai is said at sunrise). As he passed a neighbor who was just going to Shul, the neighbor asked him from where he was coming. The man responded that he had already finished Davening. The neighbor said in jest, Hashem Yishmeraynu. (Hashem should protect us from such doings). The joke was that it’s terrible to wake up at 5:00 on a Shabbos morning, despite the wonderful things that can be achieved by Davening at a V’sikin Minyan.
The second is about a family whose boys attended a very Frum Yeshiva while their girls attended a very modern school. When the parent mentioned this to a friend, the friend responded “oh, you must be one of the Al Pi Darko people”. (Al Pi Darko refers to the Posuk that instructs parents to “raise” their children based on each child’s individual strengths and weaknesses.) Most parents attempt to mold their children into their own personal vision of perfection. In my friend’s mind, Al Pi Darko was a great conversation topic, but not something people actually applied in their lives.
Jewish consciousness is more than an appreciation for the value of enveloping ourselves in a Torah based environment. It requires us to appreciate the fact that when the Torah tells us to do, or not do, something, the Torah is telling us that it’s in our best intrests to follow that advice.
Many of us live a life of Torah up to a point of discomfort. When I meet with parents, they often begin by describing the problem that brought them to my office. They give me an overview of their family and their family’s approach to life. They often introduce their overview by telling me that “we are Chasidish / Litvish people, the normal type, not too modern and not too extreme.
I then challenge them on this description. What does normal mean? Is everything that they’re not comfortable in doing defined as “to extreme”? Do the Mitzvohs and practices that they’re comfortable with, define those that don’t do them as being “too modern”?
True Jewish consciousness requires us to work backwards. We shouldn’t decide our standards based on what makes us personally, socially or financially comfortable. Instead we should listen to what we’re being told is healthy for us, and apply it to our personal lives.
I’m not saying that anyone less than perfect is unacceptable. We all have Nisyonos (personal tests) and challenges. What I’m suggesting is that our thoughts and speech should be consistent with this Jewish consciousness. We shouldn’t “talk down” to those who’ve undertaken something admirable simply because it’s something that we can’t imagine doing ourselves. Whether we’re discussing early Shacharis Minyanim or the extent of Chasidish / Litvish behavior, the definition of what is normal should be based on what the Torah says is the perfect behavior, and not what makes us comfortable with our present level of Mitzvoh performance.
Our speech also effects our actions. Human nature is fascinating. We say what we think, but once we say it, it becomes, in our minds, truer than when we only thought about it. When we refer to ourselves as normal, we become calmer and feel better about ourselves. Our realization of the fact that we’re not doing as much as we should, causes internal changes within us. Articulating what we should be doing creates a level of discomfort within us. By doing the opposite, by saying things that make us comfortable, we become normal in our own eyes. Instead of focusing on how we should feel about ourselves, we limit our natural inclination to change.
A part of Jewish consciousness is keeping in touch with how we should think and, therefore, what our goals should be. We can’t do that if we insist on thinking only comfortable thoughts. Comfort and growth don’t often co-exist well.
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