Andrea and I have been close friends ever since we were in fourth grade, which pretty much means that we have no secrets. After our textbook terrible teen-age years, we grew close as adults, probably because we talk about G-d a lot. She wears a Jewish star around her neck and likes to hear about Chasidic life, but prefers Buddhist teachers over Chabad rabbis.
Andrea lives near our daughter Elkie in LA and came to visit last Shabbos afternoon. I was excited about what I had read earlier about Adam and Eve and the sin of the Tree of Knowledge. But, as soon as I started telling her about it, it seemed like she tuned me out. I replayed the scenario later in my head. Was I preaching? I didn’t think so. I was just trying to explain the source of the condition we all experience to this day–that good and evil are intermixed, that our mission throughout the millennia has been to “know” all of creation in order to extract the “good” for holy purposes.
(Creation 101–worth sharing, right? When I showed Andrea this post, she confessed that she did more than tune me out. She didn’t even remember the conversation.)
Still, after that, our visit continued pleasantly, and when it was time for the men to go to shul, Andrea and I decided to walk with them so she could see the new building. (Chabad of North Hollywood, corner of Ethel and Chandler, if you’re in the neighborhood.) As we entered the courtyard, we met my mechuten, Elkie’s father-in-law, Rabbi Aaron Abend, who had just finished giving a class. We began to talk about moral behavior, and within seconds, Rabbi Abend had proven to her that some combination of faith in G-d and codified behavior is essential to ensure morality. Clearly intrigued, Andrea told him that she would to come to his next class.
Who knows? Maybe her unconscious mind heard what I said earlier, predisposing her to consciously appreciate what Rabbi Abend said later. Either way, I was thrilled that she wanted to learn more.
When I was first considering becoming observant, the first question I asked observant people was, what about all the “Orthodox” hypocrites? Why would I set myself up to be one of them, even in a small way–to profess that some behavior is “bad,” yet do it anyway? Wouldn’t I be better off just trying to be a “good” person?
The question then, becomes, what is “good”?
If “good” depends on what people consider good, which is, of course, dependent on circumstances like time and place, it can’t be truly good. If something is truly good, it must always be good.
We Jews understand with chilling clarity that a culturally and intellectually enlightened society is not necessarily “good,” so how do we know what “good” is?
As far as I know, only once in history did G-d reveal the secrets of the cosmos to an entire nation as a guide book for moral behavior. If we don’t look to Torah to decipher between good and bad, challenging as that may be, then morality is man-made and one man’s right is another man’s wrong.
It’s hard to be good when “good” is changeable.