Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Finding The Right Balance

One of the interesting facets of Judaism is the perceived divide between mitzvos bein adam l'Makom and bein adam l'chaveiro.  Despite there being no real distance between the two categories since the latter are also part of the former, all mitzvos being done at the command of the Creator, common practice seems to suggest that people really do see them as mutually exclusive categories.
What's more, those people who do often seem to see Jewish practice as embracing one or the other.  Thus you find many folks on the left side, including the Reformative community, who seek to excel in bein adam l'Chaveiro through "tikun olam" efforts while disregarding what they perceive as the archaic ritualistic side of Judaism or seeking to make it egalitarian, again as part of "tikun olam".  On the right side you see a desire for mehadrin and chumra often at the expense of human decency.  The same guy who insists on four hechsherim for his jug of milk having no trouble cheating his fellow Jew blind, for example.
Why does this divide exist?
I would like to suggest that it's because we really don't build ourselves a relationship with the Creator like we should. 
Now on the surface that sounds silly.  On the right we have people who shout Baruch HaShem at every opportunity and on the left we repeatedly hear justifications for ignoring mitzvos starting with the words "Well, what I think God really wants is..."  But in both cases there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what that relationship is supposed to be.
Let me bring as an example the Carlebach-style kabbalas Shabbos services that are currently in vogue.  Full disclaimer up front: I can't stand them and haven't gone to Friday night services at my shul since the Rav made them a permanent feature.  Why?  I used to think it was because it took so long but I've davened at Sephardi and Ethiopian kabbalas Shabbos services that are just as long and didn't get annoyed or too hungry.  I think what bothered me most were many of the attendees who, during the singing parts, really got into things but when Maariv started and it was time to actually pray, shut their siddurim and started to have conversations which kept up straight through to kiddush at the end.  I mean, it's great that these folks come to shul to connect but at the end of the night when they get in their cars and drive home one has to ask: what did they connect to?  They didn't come to pray, to open their hearts and souls to God.  If the service had just been quiet, contemplative prayer they'd feel no reason to come out at all.  In short, they expect God to entertain them, to serve them instead of it being the other way around.
The disconnect is no different on the right side of the community either, mind you.  Every time you read about a frum Jew involved in a financial scam, a pedophilia incident or some other despicable act and see a black hat, bear and peyos staring out of the mugshot on the screen you are looking at someone who really wants to connect to God but only through certain actions.  He has compartmentalized God into a supervisor of rituals, not daily life, his protestations to the contrary.
And what can one say about a kollel culture in which performance of many public mitzvos is shunned because it would take away from learning?
Perhaps one of the biggest priorities of Jewish education, both elementary and adult, has to be the emphasis on the lack of divide between the two types of mitzvos and that attributing a perceived lesser importance to one is as Jewishly destructive as abandonment of both.  People who spend their lives helping the poor need to know that keeping Shabbos is just as important but people who do everything they can to ensure an enhanced Shabbos also have to know there is a world out there that needs Jews acting in consonance with the Torah to improve it.  In that way we can perhaps progress towards being the example to the nations that we are supposed to be.


RAM said...

It's not a given that the Left is any more devoted to interpersonal mitzvot on the everyday level than the rest of us are. We all know of people whose personal interactions are nowhere near as lofty as the causes they profess in public.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

The divide actually reflects a distinction is the very understanding of ethics. Is something ethical because God had commanded it or is something ethical because the human ethical consciousness has so described it? This, of course, is a very deep and intense, multi-faceted question which cannot be addressed in a simple comment but it should be recognized that Torah inherently sees the value in both perspectives. There is ethical value in the observance of tzivui Hashem, observing God's command. There is also ethical value in human sensitivity to the ethical. Through the mitzvot bein adam l'Makom, we develop the former. Through the mitzvot bein adam l'chaveiro, we develop the latter. Torah demands both. The challenge is that this is not so easy, especially as one understands the depth of the demand. The result is what we have been seeing. So many Jews are only comfortable with the narrow insensitive perspective of tzivui Hashem that they cannot grasp the demanded human sensitivity of ethics -- which really shows in bein adam l'chaveiro, especially if they only act based upon tzivui Hashem. Other Jews are only comfortable with the sensitive (or emotional) ethic and so they cannot grasp the ethical nature of the imposition of tzivui Hashem -- which really emerges in the realm of bein adam l'Makom especially if they are not into it. If they -- on both sides -- only truly attempted to try and grasp the wisdom of Torah in all its complexity, depth and richness, we might actually see some real positive movement.

Rabbi Ben Hecht