Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Plague of Indifference

The latest issue of Klal Perspectives focuses on the issue of spirituality. Or more precisely the lack of it - even among our own in the world of Orthodoxy.

One of the more devastating offshoots of this lack might be the relatively recent phenomenon of texting on Shabbos. The pull of this new technology is so great that it has infected young people of even the most right wing segments among us.

First a disclaimer. I am by nature not much of a spiritual person. I am more of a Halachist. As a believer, I want to know what the Halacha is and follow it. I do not for example take any great joy in shaking a Lulav on Sukkos. But I try and observe that Mitzvah in the best way I can – because I believe that is what God wants of me.

I know that many others are far more spiritual than I. Is that a lack in me? Probably. But this is who I am. I tend to intellectualize. This doesn’t mean that I get no joy in any of the Mitzvos. I do. Some more than others.  It only means that spirituality is not the focus of my observance.

That said, I agree that being Jewish is more than just dryly following Halacha. It is imperative that we have enthusiasm for what we do, lest we become so jaded by our observances that they become completely rote – following Halacha mostly by force of habit.

The problem is that many of us in Orthodoxy do just that. There is no meaning in doing a Mitzvah or following a particular Halacha. Many just do it to be done with it so that we can quickly get on with our lives.

I think this mindset affects even the best of us to one degree or another.  For example how many of us pay close attention to the meaning of every word of our mandatory daily Teffilos? Those of us who do it three times a day, every day  – even if we do it with a Minyan - have a very difficult time with not having our minds wander. Is that because we lack spirituality? What in fact is spirituality?

The best way I can define it Jewishly is that it involves an attachment to the ultimate in spirituality, God Himself.  The Hebrew term for that is D’veikus. I don’t think too many people feel this sense of D’veikus.

What we have today in many Jews is a sort of Orthopraxy. Not in a Kefira (heretical) sense of doubting God’s existence or denying the validity of Judaism. But in a rote sense. We go though the motions because that is how we were raised.

When children see parents reacting this way that they can quickly become jaded about their Judaism. And observance suffers. There can easily be a disconnect. No matter how much they are taught in school about following Halacha they do not identify with it when they see no enthusiasm about it from a parent.

But they do see enthusiasm in other areas. Maybe a parent is a sports fan and loves watching ‘the game’ and cheering for his team. They see the passion of following a given sport… but nothing and the wrote attitude about practicing the religion.  It is not a big step for a child to rationalize away texting on Shabbos. That is where their enthusiasm lies.

The question arises, how do we re-invigorate ourselves? Do we need to attend Shiurim? Or become Chasidim who as a group are more spiritual than other Orthodox groups?

What is lacking, I think is not necessarily to be found in the classroom or in Chasidus. I don’t think enthusiasm can be taught as a subject. It has to be somehow experienced. But If a parent, the primary influence on a child is not enthusiastic about his Judaism, how will their children ever be?

And then there is this. Unfortunately there are a lot of uninspiring things happening in our world today. I need not mention all the problems going on in Orthodoxy. Just read any of the numerous  posts I’ve written on this subject and you will see what I mean.

Often projects designed to be inspiring have the exact opposite effect. Like this upcoming Assifa on the internet. I don’t see negativity as all that inspiring. And yet that is what one hears almost exclusively these days. “Don’t ...”  Don’t go to concerts, don’t go on the internet, don’t listen to music, don’t watch TV or movies… don’t read any secular books, don’t read blogs… The only “do” is Do listen to Daas Torah.

In order to inspire people you need a lot more than that. You need role models. You need people to look up to. People who you want to emulate. These people exist. They are observant and achieve great things. They can be big Talmidei Chachamim, big Baalei Tzeddakah or big Baalei Chesed. People who work tirelessly for the community, There are religious Jews who have succeeded in their field - reaching the pinnacle of success - and are lauded for it. Noble prise winners. Or high government officials all remaining observant despite the demands of their careers. 

I have written about many of these kinds of people. Just this week, I spoke of Dr. Joseph Walder. He is an inspiring figure. There are people like Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Nobel laureate Robert Auman, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, current  Chief of Staff for the President, Jacob Lew… all of them observant Jews and inspiring achievers. These are just a few people I can think of offhand.

We need to access more of these people. Have them speak in our classrooms and synagogues.

In order to put inspiration back into Judaism we also need to also put some fun back into it. We can’t be all about “no”. There has to be some fun too.

If one wants to see young Jews be inspired, come to a “fun”weekend at an NCSY conclave. There you will witness inspiration in spades. There you will see young people with little to no background enjoying themselves as Jews as they begin to learn more about their Judaism. You will see inspirational talks by inspirational people. You will see a real joy in being Jewish by young people who are all having fun in the process.  You will see young Jews with no background being inspired by advisers -observant Jews just a bit older than they are. From inspiration comes spirituality.

Lectures tend to ignored, I think. No one wants to attend a class in spirituality. Big yawn! They need to experience it  in positive ways like the teenagers in NCSY. I know of some OTD young people who have come back through their experiences at NCSY. Turned off by the dour environment of their classroom experiences (among other things) they get turned on by what they experience at NCSY.

That sure beats reading about the latest Orthodox child molester that was arrested. If we want to inspire the young to connect with God we have to do more to put our house in order by doing all we can to rid our world of its evils and do the things that make Judaism a joy rather than a burden. Otherwise we will spend all of our lives at best just going through the motions if not worse.