Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Sunday, 23 March 2008

Setting the Terms of Observance

Here's my question to the Modern Orthodox:

Let's say you were approached by a mysterious benefactor. This person promises to take care of all your financial concerns. You no longer need to work. He'll pay your household bills, car costs and kids' tuition. You can take a vacation in Israel or Florida once or twice a year. Don't worry, the money will be there.

So, now that you no longer have to work, what would you do all day long?

Well, obviously other than when you're engaging in family time like at meals or in the evenings. Let's assume the rest of the time the kids are in school so you have no pressing obligations. Your benefactor will even up it a notch. The local hospital has enough volunteers, the local food bank isn't looking either. There are no current community needs to fill. What would you do?

I would suggest that the correct answer is "learn Torah". And I am prepared to defend that answer.

The Torah tells us that it is "your life and the length of your days." Further, God tells Yehoshua early on in his career that "this Torah shall not depart from your mouth day and night." The sixth chapter of Avos brings numerous examples from the rest of the Bible stressing the importance of Torah study and its priority at all times.

Then why is it that so many of us do not spend our days learning Torah? Well, for the obvious reason that this mysterious benefactor has not (yet) contacted any of us. Thus we go to work to pay our various bills and spend the rest of our time participating in society around us. This naturally cuts down on the time available to learn.

The problem is when we forget that, despite the multiple responsibilities we face on a daily basis, our Torah study is the main part of our day. It may be a few minutes here and there but those few moments are when we fulfill the reason for which we were created. As our Sages tell us, it's the same whether you do a little or a lot as long as your heart is directed to Heaven.

Certainly the dominant group within the Torah observant world, the Chareidi community, has taken this answer as true. Indeed, while I noted above that a person generally fufills his material responsibilities first out of necessity which winds up limited his time for Torah study, the Chareidi community has gone a step further, abdicating some responsibilities for the sake of increased learning.

If that's so, then why am I asking this question of the Modern Orthodox?

Because I would suspect that the average member of that community would not answer the question this way. There is a danger in extremes. Some elements of the Chareidi community, in their zeal to learn Torah, abandon most of their responsibilities, consigning themselves and their families to poverty rather than take the time to earn a decent living. But in the Modern Orthodox community, the opposite has happened to many. They take on their material responsibilities and ensure their families are well cared for, enjoying good educational opportunities and physical comfort. However, somewhere along the waythey may have forgotten that their struggling is a distraction from their true occupation as Jews and that if they have the time their first priority is to reconnect with God through the learning of His Torah.

Now, I am not, chas v'shalom, saying that leisure and recreation are forbidden. I'm not fan of Lipa Schmeltzer but I was as shocked as anyone when his concerts were recently cancelled on the grounds of their being indecent. People who work hard need to relax, lest their drive themselves into nervous exhaustion and an early grave. No physician will deny that a person needs "down time" to regain their physical and mental strength. But again, just as the Rambam teaches that all our daily activites should be l'shem shamayim, so too should our lesiure activities. Our work should not be an end unto itself and our relaxation should serve a higher purpose than personal relaxation. All our thoughts should be directed to Heaven and when the opportunity to connect with it is available, we should grab it, as Chazal say: the alacritous perform the mitzvos quickly.

And perhaps this is one of the suggestable solutions for solving the crisis that Modern Orthodoxy finds itself in today. There must be an effort to refocus people back to true Jewish priorities so that they can reconnect to God and their purpose in life. One who comes to purify himself receives help from Above. If one makes the Torah one's life's primary work, even if it cannot be one's only work, then that would help crystallize a person's belief and focus on what is truly important. May God grant His mercy and favour on us all.

4 comments:

Dr Mike said...

This is where SJ writes in that the Orthodox need to stop being boring and how all he wants to do is touch girls, right?

SJ said...

Actually this is the part where I say that the major flaw in orthodox thought in regards to the Shabbat is that being forced to do nothing all day is just as unpleasant as being overworked.

This is in response to- "People who work hard need to relax, lest their drive themselves into nervous exhaustion and an early grave. No physician will deny that a person needs "down time" to regain their physical and mental strength."

Let people relax the way they feel like relaxing.

Dr. Mike, good job giving propaganda that someone who is anti shomer negiah is automatically a scoundrel. Go screw your boyfriend, the former Iraqi information minister.

Dr Mike said...

I can't. He said you guys already had dinner plans.

Anyway, relaxation is all a state of mind. I'm never bored on Shabbos, more than enough to do and I like the idea of enjoying conversation, walks, etc. without worrying about the TV, video games, etc. To each their own I guess. I get enough phone calls in a day that to have one day a week where I don't have to care if it rings is great.

Now, I guess some people sit alone at home all night waiting for the phone to ring so their perspective of this might be different.

Oh, but I forget. You have dinner plans.

SJ said...

more propaganda that anti shomer shabbat = antisocial. dr. mike, come up with something original (if you can).