Creating Unity and Harmony Instead of Reacting to Strife and Conflict
A Singular Approach for Common BT Challenges
Whether you are dealing with family, struggling with secular influences vs. Torah values, observing Judaism in the workplace, deciding which parenting methodology is most effective, finding the balance between “being machmir” [strict observance of Jewish law] or “being maykel” [permitted leniencies in Jewish law], discussing Israeli politics or the Arab/Israeli “conflict”, the roles of men and women in Judaism, identifying with a particular Jewish sect, etc. – there seems to be no shortage of issues which finds the BT under the gun and under fire. What often starts for the BT as an exploration of spirituality, happiness and Jewish identity turns into a three ring circus of hopping from one confrontational issue to the next.
Consider the following scenarios:
You’re frum and your family isn’t (yet). Thanksgiving is coming. How do you deal with the “issues”? Your uncle is “married” to a non-jew (G-d forbid) and they are throwing a “bar-mitzvah” for their son or perhaps your younger sister is having her bas-mitzvah in a Reform Temple – do you attend? You start being challenged by your relatives on issues regarding Judaism – in addition to the issues of Shabbos, shomer negiah and kashrus – Reform vs Conservative vs Reconstructionist vs Orthodox get thrown into the fray – do you feel a burning drive to “stand up” for the honor of the Torah? Your parents want you to finish your college degree whereas you want to go to Yeshivah or seminary – what do you do? Are you bound and determined to show everyone “the light”?
Should you have videos, internet and the newspaper in your home or not?
Do you shake hands with co-workers, a manager or potential client of the opposite sex? What do you do when the company or team meeting or business deal is being held in a non-kosher restaurant? Will you be called by your Jewish name or English name? Just how early do you leave the office on erev Shabbos? Do you negotiate Chol Hamoed, Purim, Lag B’Omer, Tisha B’Av, etc. as part of your “holiday pay” or “time off”?
Should you take on more hiddurim for Pesach or nullify some? How much should you pay for an esrog, lulav and the rest of the “arbah minim”? “Check my mezuzahs?! I just had them checked a couple of months ago!?!”; how much should you a pay for mezuzahs, how many should you get and which type should you choose – “stam”, “mehudar” or “mehadrin min hamihadrin”? “Ari Zal ketzav” or “Alte Rebbe ketzav”?
Your neighbor, friend or co-worker considers themselves “Chiloni” while considering you as “Dati” – how do you even begin to bridge the gap? You get into a discussion about the “poor, oppressed Palestinians”, the “territories” etc. or serving in the IDF vs. learning in kollel or yeshivah – where do you start in order to overcome the ignorance, distortions and lies?
Are men and women equal? Why can’t women lead the congregation in prayer, be counted in a minyan or be called to the Torah? Why do men say the blessing “Blessed are you L-rd our G-d, King of the universe for not making me a woman”? Aren’t women treated like property, slaves or as a sub-caste of second class with the expectation of being barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen?
Are you Ashkenazic or Sephardic? Orthodox, Modern-Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox or Chassidic? Even if you “label” yourself as one of those groups – what about the sub-cultures – are you Mizrachi, Young Israel, “Kippah Srugah”, “Traditional”, Breslov, Belz, Chabad or Satmar? How do you interact with other groups? Are you a “misnagid” or a “chosid”? What about the “politics” within your own circles?
Instead of finding oneself surrounded by positive people and a support network, the BT all too often finds himself in the middle of one debate after another, the target of mocking and barbs, constantly trying to validate and justify Torah ideals in an often spiritually dark and hostile world – is there any respite or hope?
Ask Yourself A Simple Question
The key to turning the tide in the onslaught of such conflicts is this:
Just how comfortable are you with being a BT and do you have an absolute conviction in the emes [the truth] of Torah?
The Gemorrah(1) brings an interesting anecdote about a thief – just before breaking into a house, the thief prays to G-d “Let me be successful and not get caught”. How are we to understand this behavior – if the thief believes in G-d [which is evident through the fact that he prays to G-d], why is he committing an act which is against G-d’s will? If he doesn’t believe in G-d [which is evident through the fact that he is knowingly committing an act against G-d’s will], why is he praying?
The answer is – the thief believes in G-d but only on a superficial level. His belief does not completely permeate the way he actually thinks, speaks and acts.
Often times when there are the aforementioned conflicts, there is this interesting preconceived notion that the secular world is right and the BT is wrong (or crazy). Furthermore, there is often the drive within the BT to “stand up for the honor of Torah” or the need to validate the choice to become a BT through victory in debates.
When a BT is 100% completely comfortable with their choice in becoming frum and is permeated with 100% conviction in the emes of Torah – there will be no conflict.
Being 100% comfortable with being frum eliminates the need to self-validate through debate. Having 100% conviction removes the drive and desire to “wage a holy war” or “stand up for the honor of Torah”. The attitude should be “What do you mean? What is there to defend? – emes is emes; it’s self-evident!”. When a salesperson has a quality product, they do not mind if it is tested. Just the opposite, the more the customer tests the product, the more the salesperson smiles inwardly knowing that the customer is about to find out for themselves. The salesperson doesn’t get defensive and doesn”t try to hide or distract the customer from the shortcomings since there are none! The salesperson takes the calm approach of “That’s fine if you don’t believe me, see for yourself!”. This was the approach of Moshe with the meraglim [spies]when they requested to tour the land and also reflects the psalm of Dovid HaMelech “Taste and see that it [the Torah] is good!”(2).
Part of being comfortable and part of making the emes of Torah self-evident means having a broad as well as a deep knowledge and solid hoskofa in Torah so as to:
1. neutralize self-doubt
2. have practical, intelligent and non-emotional [i.e. ego driven] answers to deal with the issues at hand.
With a broad as well as a deep knowledge and solid hoskofa in Torah, the BT is able to calmly and patiently create unity rather than give a knee-jerk or emotionally charged reaction which only serves to fuel the conflict(s).
Four Steps to Creating Unity and Harmony
I can think of no better example of the the employment of this singular approach than the responsa of the Lubavitcher Rebbe:
Over a span of 40 plus years the Rebbe corresponded with tens of thousands of individuals from all backgrounds, beliefs and places in society. Whether speaking to politicians or children, business professionals or college students, women or men, wives or husbands, Jews or Gentiles; whether the questions were asked tactfully or vindictively – the Rebbe brought the light and beauty of Torah in a manner that always resulted in unity and harmony – regardless of the issue at hand or the manner in which it was presented.
If the variety of people and their questions ranging from challenging the fundamentals of Jewish belief or day to day practical living to the esoteric and abstract weren’t enough, the sheer length and breath of every facet of Torah knowledge and hoshkofa is illuminated with complete clarity and in a pragmatic manner of being completely down to earth – it is simply, mind boggling.
In my brief and limited exposure to these letters – a process, a step by step formula quickly and readily became apparent in what stands out as a singular approach towards creating unity that can be taken by anyone:
1. Absolute conviction in Torah. It is the blueprint for creation as well as for a civilized, productive and G-dly society – it offers guidance and can be applied in every circumstance, at all places and all times.
2. Warmth, patience, optimism, the sharing of knowledge, firm in conviction (see “Step 1” above) yet pleasant in tone with a focus on commonality and goodness.
3. The absolute belief in and empowerment of the individual that the Rebbe was interacting with – encouraging them that they can do [more] good and change the world for good.
4. Always finishing with a call to action for oneself and for one’s immediate as well as extended sphere of influence (a call which reflects the attitude and approach of these 4 steps).
Two stories come to mind that underscore the above:
Once a Jewish, religious man was puzzled and did not understand the Gemorra’s statement that “All of the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvos like a pomegranate is filled with seeds.”(3) This person was confused – if these Jews were called “sinners”, how could the Gemorah state that they are “filled with mitzvos.”?! He simply could not understand this piece of Gemorah! This Jew was able to get a private audience with the Rebbe to explain his confusion and ask this question.
Upon hearing this question, the Rebbe smiled and said “I also do not understand this piece of Gemorah – if these Jews are described as being “filled with mitzvos” – how could they be called “sinners”?!”
Another individual once had a private audience with the Rebbe. This was someone who was complaining about how their spouse or business partner [I forget which] was 97% rotten/bad/evil.
The Rebbe smiled and responded:
“Why can’t you focus on the 3% that’s good?”
Looking for the “Aleph” in Everything
This four step formula equates to “looking for the “Aleph” in everything” that one encounters. What is the “Aleph” and how does one do that? Look for the Part 2 of 2 in this series in the coming weeks.
(1) Berachot 63a
(2) Psalms 34:9
(3) Chagigah 27a