A recent column ("Strength from Love," August 12) and a subsequent addendum ("My son the critic") generated a fair amount of response. And that response forced me to try to further clarify for myself some of the guidelines for relationships with not-yet-observant Jews.
I cannot say that I have yet achieved clarity, for the way is crowded with paradoxes, or so it seems to me. On the one hand, we have a responsibility to try to bring our fellow Jews closer to Hashem. On the other hand, if we are too obvious about our goal or too focused on it, we are unlikely to be effective in achieving it. On the third hand (yes, there really is a third hand), if we forget the goal, we are also not likely to be effective either. Herewith some preliminary reflections.
The Chovos Halevavos writes something truly shocking with respect to the reward of Olam Haba: "A person's good deeds alone do not make him suitable for the reward of the World to Come. G-d considers him suitable only because of two other factors in addition to his good deeds. The first is that he teaches others about the service of G-d and guides them in doing good. . . . " (Sha'ar HaBitachon, Chapter 4).
Rabbi Noach Weinberg explained, citing the Rambam in Sefer HaMitzvos (positive commandment 3), that a Jew who does not seek to instruct others in the service of G-d and to bring them closer to Him is lacking in Ahavas Hashem.
Thus Avraham Avinu is described (Yeshayahu 41:8) by Hashem as the one who loves Me – ohavi – precisely because he sought to share knowledge of Hashem with everyone with whom he came into contact and to maximize those contacts. To love Hashem is to seek to make Him beloved among people, writes the Rambam, just as Avraham Avinu did.
Thus each of us is obligated to strive to bring our fellow Jews closer to Hashem. The failure to try demonstrates that we do not sufficiently value our own relationship with Hashem
Teaching other Jews about Hashem is a reflection not only of our love of Him, but also of our love of them. The lover seeks that which is best for the beloved.
BUT IF OUR GOAL for our fellow Jew must always be to bring him closer to Hashem, the attainment of that goal is dependent to some extent on hiding that fact, even from ourselves. Even if our motivations are a pure expression of our Ahavas Yisrael and our desire for what is best for our fellow Jew, they will not be perceived as such if our eagerness is too clear.
There are some very rare Jews whose sincerity is so great – the best example being the late Rabbi Meir Schuster, zt"l – that even those meeting them for the first time recognize that the intensity of their efforts to bring them to a shiur, or to experience Shabbos with a Torah family, or their horror upon learning that they are sleeping in an Arab hostel stems only out of a desire for what is best for them, without any admixture of self-interest.
But most of us lack Rabbi Schuster's purity, the clearest proof being that we are not moser nefesh as he was for over thirty years bringing young Jews to others whom he felt could connect them to Torah or at least to the possibility of learning more. Few, if any, could endure the humiliations that he did, the constant rejections, without being discouraged or giving up. Only a laser-like focus on the goal and the lack of any personal self-interest made that possible.
The rest of us, however, have no choice but to win the trust of the non-religious Jews whom we meet over time. That begins by treating them with respect, interest and concern. I'm not suggesting that we engage in a ruse. Every human being whom we meet is entitled to be treated with respect because he was created b'tzelem Elokim.
And our fellow Jew no matter how religiously observant he or she is today has that tzelem Elokim and more. He or she has been assigned a role in the national mission of the Jewish people to bring knowledge of Hashem to the entire world, to be a light unto the nations. And without each Jew's participation that mission is endangered.
Surely one imbued with such potential deserves our respect, our concern, our interest in their well-being. So too is it incumbent upon us to discover their personal strengths and discern the positive middos they possess, even if they are not yet aware of them. That those positive traits exist is self-evident, for those are the tools Hashem has given them to fulfill their role in our national destiny.
In short, it should become second nature for each of us as Torah Jews not just to show an interest in their lives but to actually be interested, and to want them to be healthy, wealthy (to a degree) and wise. (Depression is neither the best nor likely to be the lasting route to a Torah life.)
I experience a certain positive energy whenever I succeed in connecting to a non-observant Jew, and especially when the conversation reflects an awareness that being Jewish binds us in together. For instance, I recently met a former head of Military Intelligence. I mentioned that I knew a talmid chacham of the same name. That led to a discussion of the meaning of his name, which he linked to a certain dye used by soferim and mentioned in the Mishnah.
Next I asked where he was from. His answer turned into a twenty-minute story about his efforts to locate his mother's grave in the Jewish cemetery of the Polish town in which he was born, with an entire group of Polish generals in tow.
Out of such conversations deeper ones about what it means to be Jewish can grow. But even the connection itself left me feeling good.
Removing stereotypes about Torah Jews is itself desideratum. Menschlikeit in personal interactions, being a conscientious co-worker, a reliable employee all go a long way towards doing so. Avraham Avinu was an exemplar of chesed, and brought people closer to Hashem in that fashion. He provides the model for all of us.
BUT BEING A FINE FELLOW is not enough, and trying too hard to be a good fellow, a regular Joe, can sometimes be counterproductive. The danger exists that we will lose sight of the fact that Torah is the core of our identity – or at least appear to do so in the eyes of those we meet.
One of the keys to the respect that Rabbi Moshe Sherer commanded with non-observant Jews and gentiles is that he never forgot and they never could forget either that he was an Orthodox rabbi. He could discuss many topics knowledgeably, but sports trivia was not one of them. And the most mildly risqué remark never passed his lips. Politicians whom he met felt respected by the fact that he did not feel the need to speak down to them or treat them as low-lifes.
I once heard Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb describe a trip to South Africa, in which he was accompanied much of the time by a consular official from the Israeli embassy. The official became more and more discomfited by the Rabbi Gottlieb's insistence on wearing his kapote in very high temperatures. At one point, he complained, "Why can't you just dress normal?"
Rabbi Gottlieb replied to the effect that the kapote was an excellent way of conveying the subliminal message that being a frum Jew makes one different. The message that becoming a Torah Jew must (ideally) change one fundamentally is an important one in our interactions with not-yet -observant Jews. (That does not mean, both I and Rabbi Gottlieb would hasten to add, that donning particular clothing imbues one with good middos or any other virtue.)
Why, for instance, has most successful kiruv in Israel traditionally been done by the chareidi world and not the national religious. After all, the latter are full participants in the IDF and the workplace, and are often exemplary in both. They have much more daily contact with the secular public. And they are culturally much closer to the secular public than chareidim are: They follow the same sports teams and listen to the same music.
Why then did they not pique the interest of more of their fellow soldiers and co-workers. The answer, Rabbi Gottlieb speculated, was that it was too easy for the secular fellow soldiers and co-workers to tell themselves, however much they admired their religious colleagues, that there was no essential difference between them, except that "He wears a kippah and I don't. But otherwise we are the same." The very culture similarity turned out to be a barrier in kiruv.
In sum, if we are not decent, friendly, and kind, there is no chance that we will have any success in fulfilling the Chovos Halevovos requirement for Olam Haba – making a serious effort to bring our fellow Jews closer to Hashem. Yet if we are only those things, but nothing about us conveys the fact a life with Torah and one without Torah are in essence different, we will also fail. In the effort to be fine fellows and boon companions, we will only damage ourselves and fail to help our fellow Jews.