Why I’m an Orthodox Hypocrite

October 24, 2014

BH

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.

4 Comments

  1. Reply

    Cheryl Weisberg

    Interesting…
    I’m not sure about your definition of good, in that man’s interpretation of good is not necessarily “truly good”. I believe that if one feels it to be ‘right’ and ‘just’
    and ‘ good’ in his or her heart and soul, then it must be ‘truly good.’
    That being said, I know that at this moment as I am sitting in my beautiful little courtyard outside of our guest house (or tzimmer,) in holy Tzfat, here in Eretz Yisroel to visit our son, daughter in law and first grandchild, I am feeling that all is most definitely good in the world. And as we will be spending this Shabbat with them in their home I know it will be truly good.
    When we surprise Ariel right after Shabbos with the arrival of his sister, from California, I know it will be a very very good thing.
    Leiba, A most wonderful good Shabbos to you and your family.

    1. Reply

      Lieba Rudolph

      BH
      Thanks, Cheryl. A huge mazel tov and good Shabbos to you! And thank you so much for your response. I was hoping this post would provoke some discussion. Interesting that we don’t have a commandment to love our children and grandchildren; somehow that comes naturally. But all those other commandments, hmmmm. Lucky you if you can trust your heart’s feelings, but I don’t trust mine. If feelings can change radically, how can they be truly good? (Minds change, too, which makes me wonder if our thoughts are true.) And what about all those (you fill in the blank) people who listen to their “true” hearts–or even “true” minds–and kill innocent people? I’m just saying…
      (C’mon all you people who have an opinion on this–what do you think or feel??)

      1. Reply

        Cheryl Weisberg

        Leiba,
        Thanks for responding back.
        Whoa, that’s a ‘big’ thing to put out there about our minds constantly
        changing and whether our thoughts can be true or not. Hadn’t really looked at it that way. Who knows? Yeah, of course God does but certainly something to give us something else to ponder over. Funny, definitely felt like a ‘Shelly’ conversation, just saying… 🙂 the conversation never ends and that’s a good thing.
        Spending one more Shabbat in Tzfat with the kids so still on a big
        Spiritual high. Take care
        Cheryl

  2. Reply

    Cheryl Weisberg

    P.s. And thank you again for sharing your thoughts, letting us a peek into your world, while at the same time giving some of us a chance to think and reflect on our thoughts as well.

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