Can’t You See the Truth?!

In order to fulfull undergrad credit requirements, I once took a course in classical music, and was bored out of my mind. As announced in the beginning, our final exam would be to identify the composer from records which had been played throughout the term. In the end, I was still bored, but at least I aced the exam. (I cheated. As the class progressed, I noticed the color of each record label and and wrote down the corresponding artist.) To this day, I still moan about 18th century Top 40. However, there are certain Mozart violin concertos and Bach piano pieces which touch me in a way that I won’t leave my car until they’re over. Go figure.

I also refuse to step foot in an art museum. What is everyone “Oooh”ing and “Aahhh”ing about? Yet, a Monet scenery painting in a dentists office will make me pause. Quite nice. Would others of different tastes say to me, “How can you not like Beethoven’s Fourth” or “Modern art is so cool, don’t you see it?” It’s never happened so far, because we understand that each person is hard-wired differently.

Even though some “proofs” of Torah are presented on an intellectual level, we’re still partly emotional beings, and to a nonreligious person, not everything will click, no matter how logical it sounds. I once heard Rabbi Orlofsky discuss evolution, and he mentioned that even if you present the odds of a Big Bang making an orderly universe (say, one in megaquadgoogolmillion), a listener might still shrug his shoulders and remark, “So, it happened.” End of “proof”. Ok, so this didn’t go. If you continue to argue the point, maybe something will happen, or maybe not. This isn’t what hits the person. Just move on.

Some aren’t swayed much by the mesorah arguement, for example. My great(x100) grandpop was at Har Sinai? And there’s an unbroken chain? I didn’t find it in the archives (yawn). G-d revealed His rules to everyone and not just one person? Do the other religions know this? Why aren’t they converting? There’s something strange here, thinks the red-faced kiruv rabbi, it’s just not clicking with this guy. Because you haven’t found the spark inside. But there is one.

My personal “proof” of Torah is that in my mind, it is impossible for a set of man-made laws which could produce a Chofetz Chaim, or a Moshe Feinstein. It would never make demands which are detailed in the laws of loshon hara, or say that we need forgiveness from the lowest person in society if we accidentally step on him. Now, if I present this to someone else, he might shrug his shoulders and say, “Yes, it could.” End of “proof”. Howver for me, this “proof” hit me like a Mozart concerto, or a Monet painting. My spark was hit, and all of the other proofs would later be strong supports to what originally got me on track. The idea that I could point to someone and say, I truly believe that G-d wanted us to live life like that (and how did he get there?) really got me rolling.

Organizations such a Partners in Torah are so successful, because when you are learning with someone, the nonfrum person can digress and ask questions about what’s really bothering his neshama. In that way, they find the spark which begins the growth process.

If the intellectual proofs don’t always do it, try to get to know a person first…see what makes him tick. So…what worked for you?

30 comments on “Can’t You See the Truth?!

  1. To Do I Despair? at #27: I feel the same way about my sister, who is a nice person but totally not interested in Orthodox Judaism.

    For someone like your relative, Ross #29’s brother, and my sister, there is no key to the padlock; but rather, take the narrowest of openings and sort of slither your message inside like a thin piece of paper getting slipped under a closed door.

    In practical terms, you can do this simply through normal, but kindly, contact. Extend invitations as much as possible. Make phone calls. Send books and/or religious items (could be inexpensive items, see above). How about at Purim time, some organizations send a Shaloch Manos package to an Israeli soldier for an $18 donation, do that in someone’s name, start the conversation.

    Rabbi Akiva was inspired to start learning Torah at 40 by seeing how steady drips of water had worn holes in solid rock.

    Never give up hoping.

  2. “There is no key to open that rusty padlock, and even if I could, the door would open onto a blank wall.”

    I feel the same about my brother. But there’s never been any doubt about his Jewish neshama. There’s a time and a place for everything, and you can’t force anything to happen earlier.

    Sometimes just stepping back and letting him view things in his own way on his own terms could help chip away at the wall.

  3. DID, maybe someone other than you has the key to this puzzle, or maybe some future event will trigger that person’s introspection or openness to suggestion, so there could be an opening at another time and place. We certainly can’t say that someone lacks a soul.

  4. “What worked for you?” I wish I could figure out what will work for someone very close to me. Rabbi Nachman says to never despair, but I am despairing. All I hear is, “I’m not interested.” “I’m not interested.” “This bores me.” “It’s nice for you if you want it, but it isn’t for me.” “I’m not interested.” There is no key to open that rusty padlock, and even if I could, the door would open onto a blank wall. Some Jews just do not have Jewish neshamos. Some Jews just don’t seem to have neshamos at all. There is no there there.

  5. With all due respect for their public service, I wouldn’t take anything said by a political Kennedy as true without verification.

  6. To Charlie Hall #23: I remember reading a number of years ago an article written by RFK Jr. in Rolling Stone magazine about the link between vaccines, mercury and autism.

    Granted, RFK Jr. is a politician not a scientist, and Rolling Stone is far from being a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

    However, RFK Jr. made some interesting points about how Russia has banned the use of mercury in vaccines, and about vaccines from “hot lots” suspected to have too much thimerosal added (the form of mercury used in vaccines to preserve them).

    I am sure you know which article I am talking about. RFK Jr. made an interesting comparison between the hand flapping behavior of some autistics and the hand flapping behavior of some individuals with brain damage from mercury poisoning.

    If the article was totally debunked then I beg your pardon, but the suspicions about vaccines and autism seem to be based on more than Bigfoot-Atlantis-UFO wonky science.

  7. It’s pretty sad when a Congressional race turns on which candidate is more likely to abet overt immoral behavior, and when even strict Shabbat observance would not rule this out.

  8. Great find, Bob! From the link

    “We tell ourselves that religion and reason are incompatible, but in fact the opposite is the case.”

    Unfortunately we get those messages from the religious sector, including our own communities. Not only do we have people within our own community who insist that science is wrong when it concludes that the universe is billions of years old, but who say that you aren’t a frum Jew if you accept those unequivocal results of observational science. Rambam would be appalled.

    Richard Lindzen, quoted on the site, was one of my undergraduate professors. (I didn’t get a very good grade and deserved what he gave me.) Lindzen, like everyone who has actually looked at the evidence, understands that global warming has occurred, but he questions whether we can really conclude that it is mostly due to human activity. But some so-called “sceptics” don’t understand that the earth has indeed gotten warmer in the past 130 years and don’t seem to care that they don’t understand. And again, some of these folks are found in the frum community.

    I’ve also run into people in the frum community who hold by the totally debunked theory that vaccines cause autism, a theory whose original proponent turns out to have been a scientific fraudster — and risk the lives of their own children and those with whom the come into contact by not vaccinating their kids.

    Regarding the mindlessness and immorality, you certainly see a lot of it in popular culture. And we don’t even question it. The creator of the Jerry Springer Show, one of the most trashy things ever to appear on US television, is now running for the US Congress and may win. (The election is tomorrow.) His opponent is a Shabat-observant Jew but much of the frum community is siding with the peddler of television trash! What are we thinking???

  9. The outside world ought to subject itself to some scrutiny in light of its descent into mindlessness and immorality. Today’s outside world is not a suitable debating partner.

    We have things to answer for (and correct), but not to this debased outside world.

  10. I second Chaya’s admiration of Rambam. He was willing to argue against other philosophical and religious systems on and not sacrifice one iota of Jewish principles. Today I see a lot of intellectual fear in the orthodox Jewish world, that if we somehow subject Judiasm to the scrutiny of the outside world that we might somehow lose our faith. Rambam had no such fear.

  11. Great post. What works for me, what I return to over and over, is the tremendous intellectual integrity of the Rambam, and the difficult circumstances of his life.

    People are frum, and stay frum, for all kinds of silly reasons like habit, fear, social pressure and ignorance about the rest of the world. But none of these applies to the Rambam. He was the ultimate deep thinker, and he’s my hero.

  12. Let me specific and offer a possible solution-in many contexts, both on this blog and elsewhere, I have mentioned that I am attracted to the best elements of the Charedi and MO worlds and reject their extremes. IMO, many BTs, instead of trying to conform and fit into either the MO or Charedi worlds, should use their ability to think and realize that they too can appreciate the best of both communities without engaging in the tiresome inside baseball or water cooler conversations that pass for discussions of hashkafa or assuming that “Achdus” means my way or the highway.

  13. I would maintain that stagnation and cynicism go hand in hand and that every BT eventually realizes that while certain role models and ideals attracted them to Torah observance, their goal should be to remain idealistic, grow as a person, and not become an object, who will shatter when his or her ideals are seriously challenged by what he or she perceives as problems that whatever sector of the Torah observant world either ignores or downplays.

  14. I think shomer mitzvoth best describes my path, if I had to put a label on it.

    Please let’s table discussion on the “me” – I didn’t expect the response my posts got.

    I appreciate where you are all coming from on this topic, Tuvia

  15. tuvia, could I please ask what community you live in? do you live in brooklyn? if so, which part? the context of the community which you live in may be one important part of the picture. hope you don’t mind me asking. thanks.

  16. Tuvia, we all ache for you because we sincerely believe you’re rejecting the best possible life there is. Not the best possible life for Judy or for Ross or for Mark, but the best possible life for Tuvia.

  17. BeyondBT is a place for true believers – so my ideas are not legitimate here. I understand that. Every religious group finds flaws in the belief systems of other religious groups or denominations. I suppose it MUST be that way.

    Still, being confused is my sacred right (sort of?). It may not exactly be a mitzvah, but somewhere, some minority opinion must back me up – maybe?

    My idea is that when I take a (necessary) step back, I realize: I’m not orthodox.

    May G-d give me the strength of my convictions!

    Kul Tov, shabbes,


  18. By the way, for each of us to aspire to be the “ideal me” is not shabby at all. It’s when we’re too comfortable with the “current me” and see all our current limitations as insurmountable.

    Any assertion that the Torah which HaShem bequeathed to us for our eternal benefit is not suitable for every Jew really bothers me.

  19. Interesting post. My wife is from the far side of venus and I am from the far side of Mars. We each became frum through very stereotypical male and female paths. She went to a Shabbos meal were the husband and wife spoke to each other with great derech eretz and the kids were cute, clever, and well behaved. It was different from what she had seen outside, that she deeply wanted that for herself. All the intellectual stuff came later.

    I, on the other hand, heard two talks. One on the astounding properties of lashon hakodesh and the other on design in nature. I felt I had to become frum, even though emotionally I was not at all attracted to it. I have come to an emotional attachment and my wife has worked through the intellectual issues. But it took time for each of us.

  20. “I know I am Jewish, and I won’t let Judaism destroy me.”

    Good, don’t let it destroy you. Let it uplift you, let it inspire you…perhaps there is one single thing in your search within Judaism which has excited you or made you momentarily feel warm inside. Really think about it, build on it, and let Judaism be your friend.

  21. To Tuvia #6: Let me mention here a famous parable.

    A jewelry merchant once hired a porter to pick up a package for him at the railway station. It turned out to be a large and heavy carton, and the porter grunted under the load. Sweaty and tired, he finally lugged the shipment into the merchant’s jewelry store.

    The merchant took one look at the sweating porter and exclaimed, “You brought the wrong load! That isn’t mine!”

    “How do you know?” the tired porter challenged, annoyed. “I lugged this heavy carton all the way from the railway for you!”

    The merchant clapped the porter on the shoulder. “My dear man, my package is valuable gems, and it’s light. If it’s a burden to carry, it’s not mine.”

    I’m sure you get the nimshul from this moshul. If it’s too stifling for you, if it destroys you and makes you feel lousy, then maybe you wound up with the wrong package. The gems of genuine Orthodox Judaism are not supposed to be such a heavy burden to carry.

  22. Tuvia,

    Can you believe in truth without proof? Either there is a G-d who created the world for a purpose or there isn’t. Neither one can be proven in the scientific sense of the word, but one of them is true.

    If you want to understand Judaism, pick up a copy of The Ways of G-d by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato and go through it slowly. If you want, I’ll learn it with you on the phone.

    Judaism is about connecting to G-d through learning His Torah and using the physical world properly.

    When you perform the mitzvos you are using the world properly and connecting to G-d.

    Keep up your great efforts in the mitzvos you are doing! Don’t worry about joining the club.

  23. This is interesting because for those of us who are starting to give up on the ideal of accepting Torah, we are faced with feeling lousy about ourselves for failing.

    It is really fascinating, my own personal problem with myself – as I slowly push away from the acceptance of yiddishkeit. I know it is the opposite of what is going on for almost all the beyondbt readers.

    I commiserated with my cousin about how badly I felt that I could not become frum – like I was a bad person. She is a b’al t’chuvah who grasped on to orthodoxy with all her soul when she was in her early twenties, and is a rebbetzin now who lives and breath kiruv and yiddishkeit. It was because of her I wound up at Aish Jerusalem. That was interesting, and then frightening as they unloaded proof after proof that orthodoxy was the only true thing.

    So for me, growth has been about accepting who I am. Permitting me to be me, and to also commit myself to growth and embracing the good in ways other than that prescribed by Torah living (which feels stifling and not necessarily correct to me.)

    Two points: I follow more actual mitzvoth now (tefillin occasionally, basic kosher, a rudimentary Shabbos) than ever before. But I also hate myself less over my inability to believe in Judaism.

    Second: I know when I die it may come out I was utterly wrong (maybe most of the world is utterly wrong) and Torah is true and that’s that. But if I am to live, I have to do it without that fear destroying me.

    I know I am Jewish, and I won’t let Judaism destroy me. It’s the ironic truth for me. Being Jewish is one thing – joining the orthodox club is not possible for me. Take a deep breath, and live.

    Good things for all,


  24. I have also heard anecdotally that there are BT’s and Gairim who simply describe their discovery of Torah Judaism as a “gift” from HKBH. In other words, here by the grace of Gd go I.

  25. I find that as the years go on and one grows in Torah, one’s thinking changes, either subtly or not so subtly, so that there develops an unbalanced choice between belief and disbelief. This is even with those originally pareve “proofs”.

  26. Could it be that for some, none of the explanations/reasons are satisfactory… and yet they still find their way there?

    What I’m finding is that there isn’t any REASON to belief, no compelling proof or reason that is stronger than the proofs or reasons for the other direction. But I’m also finding that the proofs and various reasons for believing are not illogical, not something unbelievable. There seems to me to be an absolutely balanced choice between belief or disbelief – which doesn’t make it any easier.

  27. “My personal “proof” of Torah is that in my mind, it is impossible for a set of man-made laws which could produce a Chofetz Chaim, or a Moshe Feinstein.”

    But it is quite possible for a man-made hagiography to transform a mortal man with all his emotions and his faults into a Chofetz Chaim or a Moshe Feinstein.

  28. You know a man by what he praises. Three men attend the same Shalosh Seudos in shul. One man compliments the Rabbi’s drosha; the second man admires the singing; the third man effuses about…the herring.

    Some of us were gotten in by the intellectual arguments. Others of us were swayed by the warmth and beauty of observing Yom Tov and Shabbos with frum families. For a few of us…it was the cholent!

    But that really isn’t what worked for me. One of the things that “got” me to join the club, so to speak, was sheer nausea over the ugliness of society in the nineteen-seventies, particularly the sick level that the whole man-woman relationship had descended to. Basically the message I was getting as a teenage girl in that era was that I either accepted that I would never get married, or I accepted what women had to do to attract and keep men.

    When I started finding out about frumkeit, I met a number of frum young married couples, and heard about shmiras negiah, finding out that men and women could actually have wholesome and pleasant dates with each other, finding out about each other’s character rather than fending off unwanted advances.

    Also, in terms of actual physical ugliness versus beauty, I found that by keeping Shabbos there was an escape from the mud and slime every week. To exchange grubby blue jeans for a nice Shabbos dress, and climb out of the putrid streets into a beautiful shul, this was so uplifting to me. I guess in a sense I was a caterpillar crawling in the mud with all the other caterpillars, then I suddenly saw a flock of butterflies flying and found out I didn’t have to wallow in the mud anymore, that I could grow my own wings and escape the dirt.

    I like to think of Tazria-Metzora as “my” parshah. I understand that men tend to view their Bar Mitzvah parshahs as “their” parshahs. I just think of that Shabbos when I walked into shul and the beauty of it all just hit me…that was Tazria-Metzora.

    The parshah itself seems the very opposite of beautiful, as it talks all about tzoraas and having a negah in one’s clothing or house walls, and being tamei. But I was deeply moved by the story in the haftarah. The general has leprosy, goes to the navi and is told to simply bathe in the river. What? That’s all he has to do? The navi is making fun of him! Insulted and angry, the general leaves. Then the general’s aide speaks up. “Sire, if the navi had told you to follow some difficult regimen to be cured, wouldn’t you have followed his instructions exactly? So why not do what the navi said and bathe in the river?” So the general listened to his aide’s wise words and bathed in the river…and was cured.

    Not hard to find the nimshul in the moshul. No need to run to the farthest mountaintop to learn enlightenment from some guru. The cure for the leprosy of modern society is following the simple instructions of the navi.

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