More Tough Questions from Family: Thoughts or Actions

Last year I wrote a post on a question my mother asked me on shomer negia and why some Orthodox Jews hold to these laws more strictly than others. This post generated some really good discussion and I’m hoping that this next post will do the same.

The question I am about to pose came from my father this time. I guess my mom took a break : ) After we got home from Kol Nidre last Yom Kippur, my dad asked me if G-d prefers someone who observes all the laws of Shabbas and kashrus yet acts immorally in dealings with people, ie in the workplace, or someone who is a good person, acts ethically in business, yet does not observe Shabbas or kashrus.

This question reminded me of a discussion that took place in a class I took at my shul a couple years ago. The topic we discusses was whether a) G-d prefers you to observe mitzvos but have no faith in G-d or to b) believe in G-d in your heart but not observe mitzvos. Initially, you would think that it is better to believe in G-d but not observe mitzvos. I know that is what I thought 2 years ago. The rabbi said the first option is better; he stated that even if you start out observing mitzvos and not believing in G-d, eventually your heart will catch up.

This is what I had in mind when my dad asked me that question. I explained that first of all, there is no easy answer to that question. I told him my opinion that G-d judges each person based on his/her potential, there is no comparison to your neighbor. I summed it up to my dad by saying that he should do the best he can with his potential, and not to worry about what goes on in other peoples’ backyards (I know, easier said than done). My parents mentioned that they would like to start lighting Shabbas candles consistently.

To summarize, I am grateful that I am able to have such honest discussions with my parents on religion. One of my main concerns about becoming more observant was that my relationship with my parents would undergo some major friction and that our relationship would suffer. With a little work on both my part and my parents’ part, it is not a concern anymore. In fact, I find that becoming more observant actually improved my relationship with my parents. It is okay to pave your own path and you can do so in a way that is true to yourself and also honors where you came from.

10 comments on “More Tough Questions from Family: Thoughts or Actions

  1. Translation for Fern (and anyone else): if you repent for sinning against Hashem (say by not keeping Kosher or not observing Shabbat), then you are forgiven. But repentence alone is not enough to earn forgiveness for sins against other people (dishonesty, embarassing someone, etc.).

    Aveirot — sins
    Bein Adam l’Makom — between a person and God
    Teshuva — repentence
    Mechaper — you are forgiven (rough translation)
    Bein Adam L’Chaveiro — between a person and another person
    Eino — doesn’t

    If you sin against another person, you have to get their forgiveness before you can get God’s.

  2. Aveiros bein adam l’Makom, teshuva mechapair, aveiros bein adam l’chaveiro teshuva eino mechapair

    Can someone roughly translate this for me?

  3. The problem with “im lo l’shma, bo l’lishma” it that it is demonstrably not true. There are far too many well-known, (and many more not so well known) cases of putatively “frum” Jewe behaving badly in business and other human interactions. The fact is that G-d wants us to keep all four chalakinm of Shulchan Orech, not just the first three. But, based on the principle of ” Aveiros bein adam l’Makom, teshuva mechapair, aveiros bein adam l’chaveiro teshuva eino mechapair, and the Chazal that says that the first question asked by the Heavenly Tribunal of a newly released neshama is “Have you been honest in your business dealings?”, not to mention the first chapter of Isaiah, I would say the following:
    Erlichkeit without frumkeit is a madreiga (pardon the yeshivish). It’s, at least, a good start. Frumkeit without erlichkeit verges on kefirah.

  4. This topic goes back to the “isn’t good enough just be be a good person” discussion. Once again we now have to define what a “good person” is. Actually we DON’T, Hashem did it for us if we follow the Mitzvohs, including the honesty ones. We might as well as “which is more important, kashrus or Shabbos?” Just try to do both and everything takes care of itself.

  5. Maya, you’re on the right track, and I think your parents have a basic respect for you and for Judaism.

    Howver, that is not always true of people who set midos in opposition to frumkeit.

    Some people assume that all outward signs of piety are hypocritical, and that “human goodness in practice” is equally distributed throughout society. For someone who wants to validate himself as-is and has no particular concern about self-improvement, this can be a comforting assumption.

    On the other hand, many not-so-religious but basically decent people experience or read of so many examples of false piety that they truly become outraged. They might not have wanted to be “frummies” themselves, but they had some level of respect for the more religious community until one or more negative interactions pushed them into a more cynical view. Ron Coleman commented on this phenomenon in an earlier discussion. We’re all responsible for upholding the honor of our cause by our actions.

  6. This reminds me of a question I have heard with some frequency: Isn’t it better to have good middos (character traits) than to wear a black hat (or cover one’s hair)?

    The answer: Of course it is, but what does one thing have to do with the other?

    In truth, the benefit of wearing a hat or sheitel (or taking on any external practice) is not merely the observance of halacha or tradition but to impress upon oneself a love and reverence for HaShem. If wearing a hat can achieve this goal, it is a good thing. If, on the other hand, it becomes an excuse to neglect more substantial mitzvos or to look down on people who don’t, then it’s not a good thing.

  7. I don’t know how anyone can answer that question, there is no way to know which Mitzvot are more valuable to HaShem.
    It would seem logical that Mitzvot Bein Adam L’Chavaro are more valuable, however who are we to say.

    What i believe is probably true is that it’s not just the Mitzva that counts, but the effort or commitment. I believe that the Shabbat Candles of someone who is lighting for the first time out of a genuine desire to get closer to G-d is more valuable than the Shabbat Candles of someone who has lit candles all their life and lights out of habbit.

    Similarly, if someone is naturally angry and manages to suppress their anger, this is probably more significant than when someone who is seldom anger refrains from anger.

    Given that both you and your parents seem to be on a journey to get closer to G-d, things seem to be good – even if you and your parents are not taking exactly the same path on that journey.

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