I Need A Favor

 I'd like to ask some of my colleagues a favor.

I teach Torah for a living, often to people who don't have a lot of background. Many of them are wary of Halacha in the first place and inexperienced in the beauty of Gemara. As you know, Jewish living and tradition are far removed from literal readings of "scripture", but, rather, depend for any kind of real understanding on our Torah Sh'Ba'al Peh. I'm sure that you know, as I do, that we hold our Oral Torah in just as high regard and legitimacy as we do the physical words written in a Sefer Torah, both being, literally, Torah L'Moshe MiSinai, even as many of my students, living so far removed from Jewish tradition, are unaware of this. You, as well as I, depend on the faithfulness of the transmission of Torah from generation to generation through our great rabbis and sages.

Of course, almost all of you are very fine people, idealistic and true Ohavei Yisrael (Lovers of Israel), moral, ethical and careful in both your private and professional lives. That's part of the responsibility we take on when we become teachers of Torah. We rely on the knowledge that each person who has been part of that tradition, while obviously not a perfect human being (as even the Avot, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, not to mention Moshe Rabbenu himself, no matter how highly revered, are not considered "perfect humans"), always reminded by our Yirat Shamayim (Awe/Fear of Heaven), strived to be yahsar (upright and honest).

Of course, as there are in any group, we do have a few of our fellows we're all ashamed of because of their scandalous personal behavior. In our love for Torah, we're always the first condemn that behavior in public, so these aren't the folks from whom I'm asking this favor.

Rather, it's you, again a tiny number of Rabbaim, Ohavei Yisrael and Yirat Shamayim all, in your love and enthusiasm, perhaps because of your isolation from the larger community of Jews in the world and unaware of how to engage with them, who try to push a heavily Chumrah-(strictest, not necessarily any more correct)-directed Judaism on us all, who confuse a minhag (custom) with a middah-chassidut (an extra measure, "beyond the call of duty) with an actual chiyuv (halachic obligation), who, so lovingly engaged in your own derech (path), delegitimizes any other style of observance and attacks all other approaches and opinions, who blame Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) and Jews living in our homeland (even though your own leaders fled to Eretz Yisrael to escape the Holocaust), it's you that I need to ask for some help.

No, the problem isn't that you push away a lot of Jews who are "on the fence"--they just haven't yet encountered that Rav who will speak their language and inspire them. No, the problem is that when too many people observe your behavior, your middot (underlying personality traits) and your intolerance, they lose respect for the institution and concept of rabbis. And then, without sufficient exposure and experience, they project their impressions backwards in time, to the eras of our Anshei Knesset HaGadol, our Tannaim and Amoraim who developed Torah L'Moshe MiSinai into the Talmud and the Holy Zohar, our Rishonim and Acharonim, the great sages who faithfully further developed our traditions and teachings, keeping them always alive, always relevant, always true, which continue to develop as our Living Torah.

Because, you see, if you make people lose respect for rabbis in general, they lose respect for our Gedolim and they can no longer accept that our Torah is, indeed, from The Creator. And when that chain of trust is broken, it becomes impossible for me to teach my students that the entirety of our Torah is interconnected, woven together in a complexity and beauty which transcends the abilities of "a bunch of smart men in the past". I need your help to show that Halacha is not random and arbitrary and thus, at best (chas v'shalom) optional, but rather that it is a real and effective road-map to connect ourselves and our world with the hyper-real, living, life-sustaining Holy One Himself.

So please, reach out to all of Yisrael. Lead our people under Kanfei HaShechinah (the Wings of the Divine Presence). Find your inner courage to rely on our Gedolim like Rambam in accepting converts. Discover 21st century, rather than 18th century, ways we can all comply with authentic Halacha. Emulate Shamai who taught "M'Kabel Kol Adam b'Sever Panim", to accept every Jew, even those who don't yet know the first thing about Torah, even those whom, because of bad experiences, today mock and reject our (including their own) Torah, please remember to receive each of us and them with love and welcome in your eyes.


(a version of this essay appeared in The Algemeiner)