Sharing Our Torah – Is There a Point When You Just Need to Move On?

We’re coming up to Shavous and we all feel blessed to be involved with Torah. But often when we try to share the Torah with those who aren’t observant they can sometimes look at us like we’re from Mars.

Yes we’ve listened to the tapes of why Torah Judaism doesn’t discriminate against women. And we know why believing we are the Chosen People is not a sign of arrogance. And we have an answers as to why wiping out Amalek is not barbaric. We know why kashrus, Shabbos, tefillin and all the mitzvos we perform are still relevant to the modern man.

Yes, we can answer all the tough questions, but we still can’t seem to move our neighbors off their position of rejecting Torah.

Do we just move ahead and not get distracted by those who don’t accept the truth of Torah? Or should we keep on trying to increase our clarity in these matters and work on ways that we can better share what we know with others?

32 comments on “Sharing Our Torah – Is There a Point When You Just Need to Move On?

  1. HaShem has in fact done spectacular miracles. None of us has any standing to call one or more of these unnecessary or ineffectual. Likewise for any less overt actions of HaShem. Let’s know our place.

  2. yy, One further comment, if I may take the liberty:

    Of course bombastic miracles are *the* way that God chose to drive home Truth. It is explicit in many pesukim, and the Ramban brings many of those verses and adds his commentary at the end of Parshas Bo, on the Mitzvah of Tefillin. Please have a careful read through that Ramban…

  3. yy it is not my drush, it is explicit – meforash – in Gemara Brachos 9b.

    Of course one should be proactive. All I’m suggesting is that you make it count. Be proactive in building relationships with people. Then, and only then, will you have a chance at influencing.

    Rashi on pasuk 37 is the strongest proof that I could ask for. According to the medrash aggada that he quotes, Eliyahu says to God: “if you don’t answer me, I too will become a heathen (kofer)”. So too, continues Rashi, Moshe said to God (in pleading for the death of Korach and co.) “If these men shall die the death of other men (i.e. not miraculously), then I too shall become a heathen”.

    Eliyahu and Moshe were so committed to the people that they bargained their own relationship with God on the future of those people.

    That kind of love can’t be faked. If you love them, you’ll bet your eternal life on their well-being. If you’re faking, you can expect God to call your bluff.

  4. Simon — 2 comments on your drush:

    1)Bombastic miracles are FAR from G-d’s best shots at driving home a truth. In fact this is what Moshe argued at the Bush when he was being Told of all the miracles being planned for the Exodus. Those lines abt “I’m not a man of words” and “Send whom you will send”, according to various meforshim, were attempts to stress that his love for the Am was so great that he’d prefer a better-speaking prophet taking over the job precisely since he believed that this would have longer lasting effects on their Teshuva.

    2) The passuk in Malachim says that ELIAHU will turn those hearts back BY WAY OF facilitating the sons and fathers influencing one another. See Rashy there.

  5. good kashas, Bob. Let me add: While we all recognize that the ideal kiruv emerges from an organic, mutually respectful relationship, does this mean that “let it evolve” surpasses “ahavata l’rei’aycha”, “hocheach tocheach” and all the other Mitzvahs which, no matter how we interpret them for this specific Dor, all point to going out of our way to assist our fellow Jew’s Shmiras HaMitzvos?

    Just think about it in the strongest of all relationships — Shalom Bayis. Is “let it evolve” really the last word?

    Obviously a balance must be struck.

  6. So let’s consider the “close-relationship potential” in the US. Jewish subgroups are largely segregated by neighborhood or by city or suburb. Even one’s close relatives often live too far to visit regularly. In the workplace, the chances to really get to know someone are limited (and generally should be).

    Because of the above considerations, the ideal type of relationship that should, in principle, precede efforts at kiruv may be rare.

    Is kiruv then a no-no except under the most conducive circumstances? Even relocating to the boonies where the potential action is has not been a cure-all for those in outreach.

  7. When Eliyahu Hanavi set things up to *prove* that Ha-Shem is E-lohim, against the 450 Prophets of Baal and 400 of Asherah, he prayed to God – “Aneini A-donai Aneini” – answer me, God, answer me, and let the people know that You…. (Melachim 1:18:37)

    The Gemara in Brachos 9b wants to know why he repeated the “answer me”. The answer it gives boggles the mind!

    Eliyahu was asking God, firstly that he perform the miracle of consuming his offering, and *then* that the people should have “hesech hada’as” and not attribute the miracle to sorcery.

    Eliyahu feared that would they not be momentarily distracted from their commitment to their idolatrous lifestyle, then they would wave off even open miracles in order to maintain their beliefs (See Rashi on the page).

    My point is that if God Himself (so to speak) could not *prove* the Truth, then we should also recognise our limitations.

    We can do so much, but ultimately it is God who “turns their hearts back” to His service (Melachim cont.)

    So, yes we should continue to seek further clarity and better ways to present Torah, but we should also develop the humility to be reflexive and challenge our own positions again and again.

    And I think Abe hits the nail on the head…it’s *all* about the relationships. It’s all about being deeply interested in another person’s life, his needs, passions, fears, etc.

    The trick is that there is no trick, and as soon as it stops being about them and starts being about you, you’ve lost them.

  8. Also, Abe, if you’re interested in knowing my personal angle on “thrusting the Torah upon the masses”, ck out comment #4.

  9. Abe – Re. substance, you were quick to interpret arevivim zeh l’zeh for your agenda but haven’t responded to my clarification of the pshat. Secondly, the pt. about seeking to emulate H’s way of treating the klal is NOT about seeing ourSELVES as anything! It’s about discerning the path set for us by chazal, as you well know.

    So why all this inflammatory polemic?


    “Sam HaMaves”??

    Please — a little diyun l’kaf zchus. Why is it so hard to think through these issue together?

    The 4/5 claim is an interesting one. As far as I understand, that was a one time phenomenon –in Mitzrayim. Since Sinai,when we forged a collective, eternal Brit, our responsibility for one another also changed.

  10. yy,

    So you see yourself as God, thrusting the Torah upon the masses in a Divine act of chesed? Why not just euthenasia, it’s quicker and more humane. Actually, it’s probably the same thing, your desperate grab at secular Jews through ill-advised, premature kiruv is turning the Torah into a sam maves. You bring the example of Matan Torah, but why did 4/5ths of us not make it to Matan Torah to begin with? Hashem decided they weren’t worth bringing, but YOU are still trying to be mekarev the 4/5ths of us, and your responsibility — your arvus — is to the other 1/5th of us.

  11. Yeah, move on, and let them come back to YOU. Because they will, if it’s meant to be.

    My perspective is a little different, but I feel like a BT because I had a Reform conversion before I married my Reform husband in our Reform wedding. We were living our Reform lives when, after our first child was born, I met some modern O women in a JCC playgroup who (knowing our situation) invited us for Shabbos lunch.

    Twelve years later, Baruch HaShem the kids and I have had halachic conversions, the kids are in a yeshiva ketana, and he is learning every night. Of course, his mother “disowned” him in the interim, but she softened up (a little) when we moved very far away. Was it all worth it? 100%, yes? Has it been hard? 100%, yes.

    I think we forget it’s ALL in HaShem’s hands. I’m not saying not to try.

    I could write a book, but it would be one massive lashon hora…

    P.S. I’m actually glad I didn’t live in a makom Torah before I was 100% on the derech, because east coast frum Jews sometimes treat each other like garbage! But that’s another post… another website, maybe.

  12. Abe, you’re a radical. ; ) After all these years I wouldn’t have thought your “let it evolve”-ness would hyperventilate like that!

    Zeh l’zeh cannot mean total mutuality. That would be Zeh IM zeh. You’re speaking on a level of Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li. That’s the highest. Woe to those who expect that from everyone. Double woe to those who neglect the reality of MANY needs for zeh LLLL’zeh — people who selflessly give without expectation to be reciprocated.

    Isn’t that what chag MATAN Toraseinu is all about? H’ gave to us far beyond our capacity to reciprocate. Aye, He did wait a long time til we were quite ready. Still, if we were holding by the “let it evolve” mantra, we’d never have made it.

    Chag Sameach!!

  13. Peleg–
    That’s almost exactly what I was thinking, reading this.

    I find it odd that “trying everything,” in this post, seems to mean “using all the arguments.” I don’t think kiruv done purely through debate/ trying to convince people of our rightness is destined for success. Successful kiruv is done by people who live Torah in a way that makes others think to themselves, “hmmm, that looks good.”

    I wouldn’t say even by meeting emotional needs (although we should certainly try to meet people’s emotional needs, if only for the sake of helping them). Rather, by living Torah and setting a good example. Being the kind of person other people would like to be.

    Other thoughts-
    I learned about the phrase “v’hayu hadevarim haeleh… al levavecha” (from the shma), that it means we should put Torah “on” our heart even when it can’t go “into” the heart. In other words, keep learning Torah even when we can’t understand it or accept it, because at some point our hearts will open and the Torah we learned will be there, waiting to get in. I think that could apply to teaching as well. If you teach someone Torah they might not agree right away, or put it into effect right away, but it’s there, it’s on their heart, it’s something to consider next time they’re open to considering it.

    Also — let’s have realistic goals. There aren’t many people out there who will say, “wow, you’re right, you’ve convinced me, it’s true, where can I buy tefillin and register my kids for day school.” I think we should see our task as introducing (Jews and non-Jews, btw — not that we seek converts but non-Jews have their place in Torah as well) to Torah and its ideals. Not trying to create a major life change — that can only come from inside the other person. We present, they decide.

    And even a relatively small step should be appreciated. Putting on tefillin once is a big deal. Attending a single shiur is a big deal. Keeping kosher for a month is a big deal, even if a person then slips up and starts eating treif again (hey, at least now they’ve done it and they know it’s possible). The “all or nothing” approach just causes frustration for all involved, IMO.

  14. Why do we have to be so awkward about it? First move? What’s next, top 10 kiruv pickup lines? Let it evolve. If we were really interested in having non-frum friends, we’d already have non-frum friends.

  15. “Do you really believe ALL attempts to share the wealth are necessarily messy?”

    Yes, all relationships are complicated, there are personal agendas and feelings and other messy things.

    “Do you feel that areivim zeh l’zeh should never include a presumption that we know what another’s spiritual needs might be?”

    Yes, never presume you know anything. When you have a real understanding, a real relationship with a person, you’ll know without need to presume.

    Areivim ze le ze – my understanding is that you are NOT a spiritual guarantor for all of klal yisroel – you’re a guarantor for anyone who is also a guarantor for you — it’s areivim ZE LE ZE, not areivim l’ze.

  16. Peleg asked,

    “How many people ever attended some right-wing, black-hat, Litvish minyan and just couldn’t wait to come back?”

    Count me as one.

    And I’ve also been inspired by some Chassidishe minyanim

    It’s the sincerity and involvement that count, not the trappings.

  17. “messing with people’s lives.”

    Hmm, Abe. That was power packed. Do you really believe ALL attempts to share the wealth are necessarily messy? And what about the proactive heartache I suggested. Do you feel that areivim zeh l’zeh should never include a presumption that we know what another’s spiritual needs might be?

    And if so, are you at peace seeing the vast majority of Am Segula living lives dramatically against the grain of Torah?

  18. I never met anyone who became frum because the Halacha and Talmud provide such compelling arguements. Becoming frum isn’t a rational decision. Indeed, from a secular point of view, there is nothing rational about religion. I think what attracts people is the beauty, depth, and emotional fullfillment it provides. Nothing rational, logical, or intellectual about that — becoming frum just feels good, it satisfies some non-rational need.

    The way the missionaries attract most Jews is not by an appeal to their intellect. (I know something of this as I was once somewhat involved in anti-missionary work.) So, bringing rational reasons, any number of rational reasons, for why be frum won’t usually work. But if you can find out what a person’s emotional needs are, and what is causing a person’s psychic pain, and offer frumkeit as a remedy, then you’ve got’em.

    And don’t be stupid about it. How many college kids do you think are going to continue talking to you after you tell them that, not only is sex out, but you can also forget about even holding hands. Let them find out later on how expensive shmurah matzos and tuition are. Let them figure out on their own that all of their paid vacation time is going to be used up by Yom Tovim almost every year.

    I’m not saying to lie, just to hold off on the hard, less appealing stuff, until they can understand that it is really worth it.

    I heard Rabbi Twersky once that he answered someone who noticed all the sacrifices becoming frum would require by saying that you have to decide if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. We think it does, else I wouldn’t be here. But we have to present the advantages first, and make it appealling first, before it is time for them to make that decision.

    I can safely say that what keeps me hangin’ around is not a good pilpul because I can easily find those needs met outside of frumkeit. But being a part of a culture that I feel like I belong to, that I find worth in, whose ethics I can subscribe to, being around more good people than average, is really what keeps me from going my own way. In short, it all makes me feel good. From a secular, humanist, scientific perspective, it’s all baloney. Fine. I’ll take mine with mayo and a piece of lettuce on challah, if you please.

    How is it that so many BT’s are fans of Carlebach? Because his music makes us feel good. How many people ever attended some right-wing, black-hat, Litvish minyan and just couldn’t wait to come back? OTOH, how many people are attracted by a davening with a lot of up-beat tunes, emotional and inspiring drashes, and a warm and pleasant meal afterwords?

    Perhaps we forget what got us into this game in the first place. We should do what was done to us. At least we know it worked at least one time and so it could work again.

  19. Mark, Bob, yy, et al – Perhaps “passive” isn’t the best term; excuse me for commenting in the middle of the night. :)

    But my position stands – Torah stands on its own merit, and the more we fulfill our roles, the more people will be interested.

    All of Mark’s possible reasons for my opinion are correct, though mostly the last one. That said, we don’t have a great presentation for Torah, and we shouldn’t – it’s not something that we can stuff into a 45-minute shiur. (Unless you count V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha a la Hillel.)

    R’ Salanter’s famous quote about changing the world says very clearly how to do so – focus on ourselves. The more we do so, the more change we will bring to ourselves, our families, our communities, our world.

  20. I would suggest that the term “rejecting Torah” is overly harsh and that it be replaced with ” lack of knowledge of Torah.”

  21. COMMENT on Nathan’s posts:

    “About ten years ago, I spent very many hours working with a Jewish teenager and made great progress. In the end, I discovered that his mother is a convert to Reform Judaism, which means that even he admits that he is NOT Jewish.”

    DID HE ADMIT THAT, or are you making your halachic assessment, which is ACCURATE, into his admission?

    “Furthermore, I eventually discovered that his romantic attractions are towards members of the same gender, so even he realizes that conversion to Judaism is not an option for him.”

    IS THAT THE HALACHAH? Does Jewish law prohibit the conversion of someone who has the impulse to violate the Torah or a portion thereof? Don’t we all fight improper impulses, with varying degrees of success?

    “Since then, he has forgotten and renounced what I taught him, so the many hours I spent working with this person were a waste of time.”

    IT WASN’T A WASTE OF TIME. You accrued merit for yourself, and what you taught him remains in his subconsious,possibly to be used for a good purpose at some future time.
    “In Olam HaBa, the afterlife that lasts FOREVER, secular Jews are not in any way happy or fulfilled. Those benefits are reserved exclusively for Jews who obeyed the laws of the Torah.”

    I HAVE TO DISAGREE WITH YOU HERE, NATHAN. Prior to studying each chapter of Pirkei Avot (Chapters of the Fathers) we learn “All of Israel have a share in the World to Come.” The Artscroll commentary, citing Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, explains that unless a Jew completely cuts himself off from the destiny of the Jewish people, he or she will receive a portion in the World to Come commensurate with his conduct in this world.

  22. Abe said: <>

    That is only true for 70 to 80 years in this world, Olam HaZeh.

    In Olam HaBa, the afterlife that lasts FOREVER, secular Jews are not in any way happy or fulfilled. Those benefits are reserved exclusively for Jews who obeyed the laws of the Torah.

    I do not know the exact number of times that the Talmud mentions Gehinom, but I do know it is more than 140.

  23. We can argue for a long time about what “fulfilled” means. Just possibly, Abe, it hangs on our doing HaShem’s will and not necessarily whatever pleases us.

    Anyway, the point should be that such people think they’re fulfilled and dismiss any claims to the contrary.

  24. I don’t think anyone should be doing kiruv unless they can accept the fact that one can live a perfectly happy, fulfilled life as a completely secular Jew. Only then can the m’karov appreciate the responsibility that comes with messing with people’s lives. As for the looks and the rejection — if I had a thousand dollars in my pocket, would you take a hundred? Or would you give me a funny look and tell me to get away from you? Trying to go around and “share your wealth” is wasteful, weird, and creepy; and going around trying to change people is simple arrogance.

  25. We have to deal with obstacles all the time. Isn’t that part of our task in olam hazeh?

  26. When I first became a Baal Teshuvah, I was VERY enthusiastic about Kiruv Rechokim.

    I still believe in Kiruv Rechokim, but my enthusiasm is decreased becauuse many of the people that Kiruv Rechokim attempts to help are not even Jewish, because of non-halachic “conversions” and so-called “patrilineal descent.”

    About ten years ago, I spent very many hours working with a Jewish teenager and made great progress. In the end, I discovered that his mother is a convert to Reform Judaism, which means that even he admits that he is NOT Jewish.

    Furthermore, I eventually discovered that his romantic attractions are towards members of the same gender, so even he realizes that conversion to Judaism is not an option for him.

    Since then, he has forgotten and renounced what I taught him, so the many hours I spent working with this person were a waste of time.

    Also, there are powerful and well-funded organizations that are doing everything in their power to work AGAINST the cause of Kiruv Rechokim. They include:

    * non-Orthodox “Rabbis” who propagandize against Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism at every possible opportunity

    * “Jewish” newspapers that have been constantly propagandizing against Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism at every possible opportunity for at least the past 40 years. Some of the largest Jewish newpapers are in this category.

    * anti-religious parties in Israel who exist for the sole purpose of combatting Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism at every possible opportunity

    * Christian missionaries who specialize in targeting Jews for conversion are now trained to propagandize against Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism.

    For example: so-called “Jews for Jesus” will ridicule Orthodox Judaism by saying: How can you believe in a religion that condemns people who tear toilet paper on Shabbat? (or something similar)

    This might not be effective against FFBs and longtime BTs, but it sounds persuasive to the ears of the ignorant.

    * Anti-Semites have created many web sites that propagandize against the Talmud.

    Their accusations can be refuted, but 95% of USA Jews DO NOT have the education needed to refute these attacks. And the people who are able to refute these attacks are not aware of them, or understandably do not have the time to argue with internet Talmud-bashers.

  27. I’m with you in general, Ezzie, but I think “passive” is not a good word choice. It implies a lack of energy; distance. The pure Jewish heart that has been blessed with Torah should be PLATZING with ache over his brethren’s disinterest. But within that ache, I agree that we must be careful to keep our outreach at bay.

    We must respect their bechira and trust in H’ being the Orchestrator of many, many non-direct ways of reaching them.

  28. We should watch vigilantly for the occasional opportunity or opening to influence other Jews directly. In the meantime, and all the time, we should strive to be good exemplars of the Torah life we promote. There’s so much out there ridiculing Orthodox life. We as visible counterexamples can help set that straight.

  29. Do you think you should move on because:

    – It’s impossible to make the case that a person should investigate Torah.

    – We haven’t yet come up with a great presentation of the case for Torah.

    – Even if we did have a good case, we shouldn’t present it anyway because passive Kiruv is better.

    I think that if a great case could be made for Torah then it would be negligent or worse not to present it.

    Perhaps this leads to the conclusion that we need to work much harder on creating a presentation of a great case for investigating Torah.

  30. That goes back to active vs. passive kiruv, etc. I think our approach should be passive in general – for those who are interested, we will teach. For those who are not, we will not try to push against their will. For those who are in between, showing them our way of life will hopefully pique their interest.

    From the sound of the question, I’d say Move On.

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