Friday, July 02, 2010

My Advice to a Wonderful Jew

There are a lot of well intentioned people throwing advice at the anonymous guest poster who calls himself ‘I don't know why’. But I sense that this is mostly not the advice he is looking for and that it will not really help him. I am reluctant to give my own advice because - what do I know?! I certainly don’t know him or any of his family. Nor do I know of any possible underlying issues that may affect his thinking. But at the same time - what's the harm? He can always reject it. So – here goes.

My advice is to be true to yourself. To paraphrase R' Selig Starr, ZTL - a Rebbe I had at HTC - you must know what you want and know what you don't want. You're already half way there. You know what you don’t want. You have spent years agonizing about your own supposed shortcomings in learning Gemarah and now realize that learning - which is so highly prized in the Torah world - is not for you.

But realize - these are not shortcomings. They are simply a function of your personality development which came about via both nature and nurture. Learning is not for everyone. That does not lessen you or anyone else as a human being or as a Jew.

Not 'knowing how to learn' is not necessarily because of a lack of intelligence on anyone's part - although it could be. It is more about what turns you on and what turns you off. What bores you and what interests you.

In that context I agree with the poster known as Daas Hedyot. Find your passion and pursue it. It need not be anything particularly Jewish. It need only be ‘Kosher’. If for example your passion is to violate Shabbos then I have nothing further to say. But I strongly sense that this is not the case.

Finding your passion does not mean you can't stay Frum and try and do the will of God to the best of your ability. I believe that it will make you a better person - and a better Jew to do something that you are passionate about. You will feel better about yourself and ultimately about your Judaism.

Nor should you feel discouraged because you don't do this or that Mitzvah. No one does everything. Everyone has shortcomings in one area or another. Sometimes it is Bein Adam L'Makom. – between man and God. Sometimes it is Bein Adam L'Chavero – man and his fellow man. Often it is both.

My father used to always quote this Chazal to me: Echad Ha Marbeh V' Echad HaMemayit - U'Bilvad SheYechaven Adam Es Libo L'Shem Shamyim. Some people do more and some do less - as long as the intent is towards Heaven. We all do the best we can. You should be encouraged by what you do and not be discouraged by what you don’t do.

Doubts about the belief system of Judaism are a normal function of intellectually honest people. But doubt need not lead to disbelief in God and His Torah. One can remain with questions and still believe. It is no sin to ask questions and - if those questions have not been answered to your satisfaction - remain with doubt.

I sense that this is the case with you.

You have joined an Orthodox community which you enjoy - that has a Rav that you like. You are raising your children in Yeshivos. You must therefore believe that they have value.

They do have value. Are there problems? Sure. I talk about those problems all the time. But the good far outweighs the bad. And it's great that you will accept your children for who they are no matter what they do. Everyone should have that attitude.

What about belief?

The main thing is that even if you are a skeptic, you must admit at least the possibility of a God; the possibility that He created the world; and gave us a Torah which reflects His will. Why reject it and fry your Olam Haba? What if it's all true?

There is a book out there written by an Evangelical preacher by the name of Rick Warren entitled ‘The Purpose Driven Life’. I did not read it. But the title says it all. What is life without purpose? Belief in God and His Torah gives life meaning and purpose. It makes sense out of our existence.

Why are we here? Is it all Hevel HaHevolim – complete vanity and emptiness? Do we all exist only because of an accident of nature? Are we doomed to live and die - and that’s it? No absolute morality? No afterlife? No reward? No punishment? Is it all just random?

If that were true the Nazis would have been right. Eliminate the unwanted race if you can. Who cares if they die?! Once they're all gone - nobody will care.

No one can convince me there is any moral consequence to genocide if there is no God. It then becomes all about the evolutionary struggle for existence where the superior beings survives over the inferior beings - and reproduce. God is not a factor. Morality is relative - and defined by the superior beings that survive.

Like you - I am a child of the Holocaust. And I cannot answer the eternal question about Tzadik V'Ra Lo - why do bad things happen to good people?! The Holocaust is the ultimate manifestation of that question! Those survivors who lost faith after the Holocaust may not - God forbid - be judged by anyone! They are just as holy as those who retained their faith. Don’t believe me? Believe the Satmar Rebbe and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits who both said the same thing.

But I digress.

So again - don't learn anything if you don't want to. Be comfortable with who you are. I do not believe you will ‘find yourself’ by joining any movements - like Lubavitch for example. I sense that Chabad’s philosophy is neither in your blood nor in your worldview. You have found the right community. It is where you are right now. Stay there. But honor your heritage and give your life purpose and meaning by trying to do what is right in the eyes of God to the best of your physical and emotional ability.