Focused Inspiration

Esti recently commented on the Uninspired post. (Shout out to Shayna, we miss you.)

Just thought I’d comment on your great post. I watched the women’s Inspired video and was mesmerized. But I admit that I laughed all the way through as I knew most of the women interviewed. As such, I was interested to learn parts of their stories I didn’t know. But I also know that all of the women interviewed, like the rest of us, are real people. We saw one little 5 minute interview of their life. We didn’t see the 364 7/8ths of the rest of their days that year, or their life.

They have their challenges, I guarantee you they don’t all have polished floors (now that I think of it, NONE of the women I knew on that video have immaculate houses, but they do have happy kids) and their day probably resembles on a day to day basis more of what yours looks like, and they strive for the sparks of spirituality that led them to their life change towards traditional Judaism the same as you do.

The inspiration is where they choose to try to focus, when they get that 1 minute breath between mopping the floor – do we look up or back down at the floor? None of us are perfect, including all the women on that video. But its where we’re looking that’s important, and for that, if this encourages others to do kiruv to help others focus on the important things, its highly worthwhile, even to give ourselves the shot in the arm we need. Happy polishing!

When having non observant people over for Shabbos should we just be our normal imperfect selves or should we strive for Inspired-like perfection to showcase Judaism at it’s best?

11 comments on “Focused Inspiration

  1. Since the majority of visitors to this site are BTs, surely some of us remember what it was like to be new, maybe even not-yet-observant. Surely we can remember the experiences that impacted us the most were genuine, and we could see and not appreciate fake acting or when someone was not saying something they normally would say. Act genuine, strive for spiritual shabbos tables always, and entertain your guests as any guests, observant or not. You might just explain a few more things in English, but otherwise, be natural and enjoy the company!

  2. Those of us who are parents need to try to make observance look worthwhile, even when there are no guests. And we have to remember to do it at a level that appeals to kids. Here it’s impossible to fake it; we have to make sure it’s genuine. We always have to remember that there are people watching who are likely to be strongly influenced by our example — much more than any guest we’re likely to have over. If we can focus on doing it for our kids, we’ll naturally do it for our guests.

  3. Rabbi Scher,

    Thanks for responding! I will give them your regards, (it’s hard not to run into them in a small town!)

  4. My answer is neither. Or maybe both.

    Only Hashem is perfect. Striving for perfection is hubris. Aim for excellence instead.

    We can’t always achieve excellence. However, perhaps such “imperfections” are valid examples of “Judaism at its best.”

    When the kugel burns, the kids whine, the wine spills, and we can’t remember or agree on what the Rabbi said at shul, yet we still enjoy our company and the Shabbat meal with a sense of kedusha and a sense of humor, our priorities are demonstrated without polemic or contrivance.

    When having people over, regardless of their observance, we focus on THEM, not on ourselves and our observances. The goal is to connect and listen, not to transmit (unless asked.)

    We don’t serve SPAM at our table. (SPAM isn’t kosher, after all.) We’re not auditioning for mentor or campaigning to be anyone’s role model. We aim to connect with all of our guests as peers.

    We do whatever we normally do, and try to stay sensitive to how it is being received. If a guest seems to squirm, we try to make him comfortable. If we’re not sure what the problem is, we ask.

    If someone asks for information or explantions, we share what we know, with humility and without lecturing.

    We try to connect with all of our guests, those who are more machmir than we are, those who are less so, and the rare find who is roughly at the same level as we are, as individuals.

    When we invite people to share Shabbat or a meal with us, we offer what we have, without apologizing for it, but try to give the guest the “better half” of what we have.

    “The guest gets the best” is basic hospitality and good manners, independent of the observance levels of the host or the guest.

  5. I downplay the more mundane or difficult aspects of orthodoxy when I am with non-observant friends. I wish I didn’t, I think it’s better to be honest. It’s a bit knee-jerk.

  6. Albany Jew,

    Give my respects to Rabbis Kelman and/or Bomzer, if you ever run into them!

    Our thinking probably isn’t too far apart on this. If I aspire to a particular sort of Shabbat table, and I work a little harder at it in honor of my guests, that just may be a debt of gratitude to my guests for providing the little extra inspiration. Putting my best foot forward is different than creating a false persona to make an impression. And, as I noted, I think there is importance in Torah to ‘genuine-ness’, integrity, yosher, what-have-you.

    Think how cool it is when, at that job interview, a certain chemistry clicks and you feel a little ‘safer’ and a side of you comes through that otherwise was being stifled.

  7. To respond to Rabbi Scher,

    I guess it might be comparable to how you dress and act at a job interview. You are especially careful because you are “selling” yourself as best as you can. When we have future-observant (I am optimistic) Jews over for Shabbos we may want to have a similar strategy, not being “fake” per say, just more polished than we would be with good friends or family members.

  8. I don’t know what “inspired-like perfection” implies.

    If the notion is that I am somehow presenting a false impression, one that I neither live-up to nor strive for honestly, than I have to say that sort of falsification is in contradiction to whatever I have learned in Torah. It is wrong in and of itself, and the words m’dvar sheker tirchak/distance yourself from falsehood come to mind.

    In addition to my adamant objection to a falsehood, what kind of Shabbat enjoyment is there in a charade? And, ‘tactically’ speaking, wouldn’t someone likely note something wrong with the underlying act or stress of putting on a show and trying to impress? In Arabic, that’s called ‘dawawin’, presenting yourself as you are not just to make an impression. I don’t see how it could possibly be a good thing.

    If my Shabbat is not something that I find good, there is no point in inviting others to the table. If my Shabbat is inspiring or enjoyable for me, then let others experience it as it is, or as I genuinely try to make it.

    Additionally, I would note that I know of quite a few people whose first experiences of Shabbat were ‘flawed’ by lack of knowledge or halachic observance. That didn’t stop them from having an inspiring, thought-provoking experience that led to searching for more. I would bet many of us in this group could relate such stories of early experiments with Shabbat or kashrut. It often led to very good things in the end.

    I think it is not only right (because it is truthful), but far more encouraging for our guests to see real people living real Torah in real lives. If the experiences vary widely and honestly from one home to the next, that may be more reassuring that they can find their niche/doorway through which to enter too.

    I think Esti’s last quoted paragraph above is an excellent description of the real combination of reality and genuine aspiration as part of the one and same package.

    Just my $.05 (adjusted for inflation).

  9. We should look on any Shabbos meal at home, with or without outside guests, as a chance to be our more ideal Jewish selves.

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