Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 18 February 2016

Balancing Observance With Real Kindness

One of the ongoing criticisms of Torah observance is the pre-occupation many in the Orthodox community have with bein adam l'makom commandments which they perform often at the expense of proper observance of bein adam l'chaveiro.  The former Failed Messiah blog was able to provide daily examples of Jews who were otherwise exemplary in their upkeep of their relationship with the Creator while failing miserably with their fellow human beings.
One of ways used to approach these folks was to remind them that bein adam l'chaveiro has superiority because in addition to its main element there is also a part that is bein adam l'makom.  After all, God commanded it so by fulfilling it we're getting a twofer.
Interestingly, those who see it that way might be causing more problems that they realize, as this article eloquently points out:
I have Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements and noises called “tics.” My Tourette’s is relatively mild at this point, but I went through a turbulent adolescence when Tourette’s was the most defining thing about me. Between the constant movements and the loud, uncontrollable noises, it was incredibly disruptive.

I now work in the Jewish community as an inclusion advocate, as well as in youth engagement. So I have this cool opportunity to see the Jewish community both as someone with a disability and as one who is supporting congregations and communities in creating more inclusive spaces for all people.

Sometimes I hear people talking about how much of a “mitzvah” they are doing by opening their doors to people with special needs in their community. Maybe they allowed a child with autism in their youth group or religious school, or hosted an “inclusion” service.

But here is the thing: It is not a mitzvah to let me in the door. It’s not. Opening your door to those with disabilities is not enough. Because there is a critical difference between tolerance and full inclusion. If we are practicing full inclusion, our communities should be celebrating each person and what they bring to the community, not just what they demand of it.

Many times throughout my life, I have felt like I was the mitzvah project of the week, like the community didn’t really want me there, but knew including me was what they were supposed to do. I always felt like we were one step away from my face being on the community bulletin with a story reading something like “We did it! We included somebody with special needs! Be proud everyone. Be real proud.”  OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But feeling like my presence was another’s mitzvah made me feel even more like an outsider.


One of the hardest things to do, it seems, is to balance performing a mitzvah which involves another persons with the need to do it with a kindness that conceals that motivation.  Imagine returning a lost object but making it absolutely clear to the owner that you're only doing it because the Torah says you have to.  Imagine visiting a lonely person in hospital and opening the visit with the line, "Henini muchan u'mezuman la'asos mitzvas bikkur cholim".  How do you think the other person is going to feel?  Have you really fulfilled the chaveiro portion of the mitzvah?
Interestingly, this is something that the non-observant Jewish movements also stumble on, as the article makes clear.  It is just as easy to turn a person into an object used to satisfy your need for observance if you are or aren't religious.
This is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of Judaism, isn't it.  It's easy to sit and shteig a Talmud all day long.  Putting on tefillin, throwing a few coins in the pushka, no sweat at all.  But interacting with your fellow Jew without making it seem like you're doing your duty, not being a decent human concerned with his well-being?  That's a lot trickier.
For example, there's an essential decency in visiting the sick, for example but it does gain extra value when it's done with the kavannah that a mitzvah is being performed.  How does one balance the performance with the decency of human interaction so that the person does not become an object but a partner?

10 comments:

Micha Berger said...

R Wolbe has this quote from the Alter of Slabodka in Alei Shur vol II:

“Ve’ahavta lereiakha komakha — and you shall love your peers like yourself.” That you should love your peer the way you love yourself. You do not love yourself because it is a mitzvah, rather, a plain love. And that is how you should love your peer.“

(There is a copy of this essay (Frumkeit, in Alei Shur II pp 152-155) available here.

Yahadus lost its heart when we stopped praising the ehrlicher Yid and instead talked about who is frum.

I blame the existence of non-O movements. They pushed us to self-define by the mitzvos that make us most different from them, which meant a particular focus on ritual mitzvos.

Shira Salamone said...

You forgot to include the link:
http://www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/new-normal/im-not-your-mitzvah-project

Shira Salamone
http://onthefringe_jewishblog.blogspot.com/

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Thanks for the catch, Shira.

Shira Salamone said...

You're welcome.

"I blame the existence of non-O movements. They pushed us to self-define by the mitzvos that make us most different from them, which meant a particular focus on ritual mitzvos."

Grumble, grumble, kvetch and mumble
Blaming us makes Orthos stumble :(

'Tis a bit of a problem that some in the Orthodox community waste their time looking over their right shoulders to make sure that the they avoid all appearance of being Conservative Jews. We non-Orthos have been around for over 100 years. Get over it, already, and just do what you think is right as Orthodox Jews! Don't waste time fighting a long-lost battle. We non-Orthos will either make it or we won't, but that's *our* problem.

Just remember what Rav Riskin said in his Haggadah--the problem isn't the wicked child, it's the child who's not at the Seder at all.

With respect and best wishes to all my Jewish brothers and sisters.

Shira Salamone said...

Sorry, my previous comment was a bit of a tangent. That said, it's sad that some in the Orthodox world have "ceded" "tikkun olam" ("repair of the world") to the Reform. Taking care of oneself, others, and our world is the responsibility of the entire Jewish community, left, right, and center. That's why HaShem gave us mitzvoth bein adam l'chavero (commandments about how to treat other people), in addition to mitzvot (commandments) regarding how to dress the Kohen Gadol/High Priest. We need both ritual and ethics to have a Judaism that's complete.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Shira, to be fair we didn't cede tikun olam/repairing the world because the way that term is used by the Reform and Conservatives is completely unrelated to the way Chazal used it. Tikun olam means making society function, eg. filling potholes and putting up stop signs, or transitioning the whole world to the world of the Creator. The idea of it as a slogan for environmentalism and helping the poor is a Reform invention. (Not that they're wrong in prioritizing such things but strictly speaking, they're not tikun olam)
And yes, you're right we spend too much time looking over our left shoulder instead of just getting on with our lives but the reason for it is because we don't have a common halacha with the non-Orthodox and the big fear is that someone non-Orthodox will say "Hey, you give charity, we give charity, it's like we're doing the same mitzvah" and that bothers some in the Orthodox world.

Mr. Cohen said...

When Garnel speaks with nostalgia about the former Failed Messiah blog, this causes me to feel intense dismay, distress, discouragement, and disgust.

In my humble opinion, publicly praising the Failed Messiah blog is a worse transgression than: slaughtering a pig on Yom Kippur, then cooking it in its mother’s milk on Yom Kippur, and then eating the entire pig on Yom Kippur.

In my humble opinion, publicly praising the Failed Messiah blog is tantamount to publicly accepting atheism.
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Micha Berger said...

Shira: I was not blaming non-Orthodox Jews, I blamed " the existence of non-O movements". Because movements existed that deprecated the details of halakhah, O came to see itself as the movement of the details of halakhah, and thus of the mitzvos that have such details -- rituals. Who is a true O Jew? When I was young we would say it's someone who keeps (by O standrds) Shabbos, kashrus, and taharas hamishpachah. Because the question implicitly said "... and not a non-O one." But not because kashrus is more important than ethical business practices. It isn't. It just doesn't answer he question of who is O vs non-O. But t warps self-image. It's not any person's fault, it's simply how social dynamics were bound to play out. No one did it to us, nor is it because we chose to fight a battle. It's simply normal historical forces.

Mr Cohen: I didn't hear such nostalgia in the post, but I would say that Failed Messiah, a center of rechilus (repeating hearsay) that wouldn't care whether he was repeating LH (true) or motzi sheim ra (slander) is a prime example of a lack of bein adam lachaveiro, no less so than the issue the post itself addresses.

Unknown said...

When doing chesed treat the person like a *gavra* and not like a *cheftza*

Unknown said...

When doing chesed treat the person like a *gavra* and not like a *cheftza*