Inconsistencies in the Process of Growth

While I was in the process of becoming frum I found that many of my friends and family suddenly became big Talmidei Chachomim (Torah Scholars). They started noticing and commenting on discrepancies in my religious behavior. They never said it explicitly, but the implication was that I was being hypocritical. I fielded such questions as, “Why don’t you wear your yarmulka at school like you do at home?”, “How can you eat in the restaurant if they serve x, y, and z also?”, “How come you walk to shul and then come home and watch TV?”, etc.

As we know, for most of us becoming observant is a process. It’s not like upgrading a computer to a new operating system where suddenly you have all of this new information and features. (Actually, that can be a tough process too, but you get the idea.) There is a lot of information to assimilate and major behavioral changes to implement. In retrospect it can be amusing to look back on some of the inconsistencies we exhibited as our growth unfolded.

Here’s a couple of oldies but goodies. Early in high school I started going to an orthodox shul Shabbos mornings. In the beginning my parents would drive me there. I still remember hiding on the floor of the car as we would pass my frum friends walking to shul. (Like they didn’t know I drove!) Then I started walking to shul; four miles each way. After that eight mile round trip walk I would hop in the car with my parents and go on any number of Saturday afternoon outings. Sounds funny now, but it must have seemed strange to those around me back then.

The truth is, I believe, that everyone who experiences religious growth, whether an FFB, BT, or non-orthodox Jew, has to deal with inconsistencies. In fact I think the need to resolve these inconsistencies is actually the engine for religious growth, and if this need is the engine then learning is the fuel. By learning, especially learning normative Halacha, we create a gap between what we know and what we do. If we’re sincere and honest with ourselves then we will try to close this gap by modifying our behavior. So, once we learn that there’s more to kosher meat than it being from a cow it becomes evident that we have to stop eating “all beef” Big Macs.

As we become more knowledgeable and more observant the gaps become subtler, but they never disappear. All of us have that “bechira point” at which we’re struggling between what we know we should be doing and what we actually are doing. As long as those points keep moving, we’re doing ok.

12 comments on “Inconsistencies in the Process of Growth

  1. Menachem,

    I read your posts because I wanted to get to know you a little better. I didn’t expect an incredible “vort” like that last bit that your rabbi quoted. Wow! Thanks.

  2. I received the following from my Rav in NJ in response to my post:

    Regarding you point about inconsistencies, I once heard from someone a relevant thought. After vidui on Yom Kippur we say, “Ata yodaya rozai olom visaalumos sisrai kol chai”. Rozai and sisrai both mean secrets, so it seems redundant. The person suggested that sisrai means the stiros- the contradictions that are part of human nature. When we say vidui, we admit that we are inconsistent in our behavior.(

  3. Kressel,

    That’s why I referred to “normative” halacha. What you brought up is a another layer on the issue. It’s hard enough try to stay consistant within halahca without having to deal with the external restrictions brought on by communities of which one is not a part.

  4. There are plenty of people who would say that our being on the Internet is another form of inconsistency, just another treyfe Big Mac we have yet to outgrow.

    *ducks flying tomatoes*

  5. Menachem,

    Believe it or not, one thing leapt into my mind when I read this: L’Havdil, this reminds me of the Marxian concept of dialectical materialism (sorry, but as you may remember, I was a political theory major): “…all change [i]s the product of a constant product of a constant conflict between opposites arising from the internal contradictions inherent in all events, ideas and movements.” This butting of ideas, like the concept (again L’Havdil, sorry to juxtapose this w/Marx/secular concepts)of Eizer K’Negdo, is what energizes us to keep moving IM”H in a direction toward increasing our Torah and Mitzvot.

  6. I once read in a book I believe written by Rabbi Adin Steinseltz, that the BT process should take at least 10 years. I felt really good after reading that since I had been when I read that involved for almost ten years and still wasn’t up to snuff (or so it always seems). My most powerful image I had once when I was in shul — on Yom Kippur no less after being with a member of the opposite sex — anyway, I remember thinking that there was a BIG neon sign over my head that was flashing “LIAR, LIAR” I guess that year I was really being Judged. Fortunately G-d allowed me to live so I could move on from such a contradictory point in my growth.

    Not that the next day I was all Frummed out mind you, I am still struggling — just not in such dramatic fashion.

  7. It’s a good point that everyone has inconsistencies, but not all inconsistencies are created equal. Some are internal, some are externally obvious, while others might get you branded a hypocrite. Here’s a cute quip to highlight this:

    Every person is really four:
    The person you are.
    The person you think you are.
    The person others think you are.
    The person who you would like others to think you are.

  8. For several years I was a Rebee at Be’er Hagolah, a Kiruv yeshiva focusing on children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The school had just passed a new dress code prohibiting earrings for boys. My students protested loudly. When I tried to explain the prohibition of Lo Silbash (transvestism) they claimed that this must be a bendable prohibition that varies according to era and culture. As one bright sophomore put it
    “Would a Scottish Jew be prohibited from wearing a Kilt on the grounds that it is a feminine article of clothing?”

    I brought this question, as well as another students question about the minimum dimensions of a closet necessitating the fixing of a mezuzah on the doorpost to my neighborhood posek. When the posek’s chavrusa heard these two shailos in rapid succession he rolled his eyes and smirked while the posek himself maintained equanimity. Feeling a little ill at ease I sort of apologized saying “What can I tell you, they pick and choose”. Before answering my shailos the Rov gave me a bit of mussar that I’ve never forgotten; “THEY pick and choose and you don’t? Are you nokee from avak loshon hora? Are you a bokee in Choshen Mishpot to know if you’ve always conducted your monetary affairs properly? Gedolay Yisroel don’t ‘pick and choose’. Rav Moshe z”l didn’t ‘pick and choose’. Don’t make this into an us vs. them issue just ask the shaila!”

  9. If you think about it, isn’t it true of everyone, not just baalei teshuvah? If there weren’t inconsistencies that needed working out, we’d all be finished with our life’s work.

  10. Menachem:

    Reading your post, I think we all get that “been there, done that” feeling.

    Rabbis Becher and Newman discuss this issue in After the Return (which Mark and I quoted in the post “Rav Eliyahu Lopian on Equilibrium”). In the chapter Evolution or Revolution, they discuss the question of doing certain mitzvas and not others and the charges of hypocrisy that come along with that. They sum up the chapter by stating:

    “The charge of hypocrisy and the potentially negative impact of such mitzvos need not be feared as long as one has established the intention to systematically change his behavior.”

  11. Menachem-your post focuses correctly on the fact that teshuvah is a process that changes the person, as opposed to an instantaneous metaphosis that occurs overnight.( With all due respect to the comments that you received, one can honestly question whether they were productive or counter productive in helping you work thru these issues.) One can posit proof for this by the very fact that Moshe Rabbeinu had to institute Krias HaTorah and give Klal Yisrael a few mitzvos after the crossing of the Red Sea and prior to the receiving of the Torah because a one time emotional event was guaranteed to lose its impact as opposed to a daily or weekly imposed requirement that was dsigned to impose a sense of regularity.

    I think that if we all look back that we can identify aspects of our former lives that we can find caused us more headaches and heartaches than others in our reaching our current processes.

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