Pacific Jewish Center | Rabbi

The Rabbi on the Beach @ The Shul on the Beach

The Sales Pitch

This post is cross-posted to DovBear – more discussion there.

I read an important column on a good website yesterday.

It wasn’t on or or (some of my favorite sites to link from) this article was on VIN is a Orthodox Jewish blog with editorials and news. I recommend checking it out when you have a chance.

The column I read was a great perpective on Baal Teshuvas and their integration into the Frum community. In particular the column focused on various reactions of the BT (I use the term adoringly) when encountered with other (supposedly) Frum Jews who are not living up to their own standards.

Some BTs “can’t handle the truth” and wind up right where they started – wonderful secular people. Other BTs are more adept at maintaining their Frum lifestyle despite the disappointment. The article then enumerates some of the great things that BTs have contributed to the Frum lifestyle. Like manners, healthy eating, special education, etc.

While there is room for debate on whether the Frum community can attribute these “innovations” to BTs I am happy to give them the credit.

The article concludes by thanking the Frum community for showing them a way of life they love and appreciate.

I have two main points that I want to make in relation to this article.

1- The fake sales pitch the Frum From Birth Kiruv Rabbis spew.

2- The BTs reaction to the reality check.

I cannot stand the sales pitch that Frum people have no problems and Torah life is free from all social ills. It is simply not accurate. Please don’t use it!

In fact, the Torah is a guidebook for flawed people. If people were able to just become perfect then the Torah would give us one time instructions to “fix” our flaws and then we would be good to go! But instead, the Torah gives us instructions to develop our character through Mitzva observance with specific tasks. Some tasks only come around once in a lifetime, or once every 50 years, or once every seven years, or once a year, or once a month, once a week, once a day, and even every second. The clear message is that we need constant work because humans will eventually fall.

The Talmud explicitly states: “Do not believe in yourself (righteousness) until the day you die”. The human being is designed to fail without constant work and guidance.

I believe the honest sales pitch (and yes it is a sales pitch and that’s okay) is: Humans are flawed, we all need guidance, the Torah provides guidance. Some of it is obvious, some of it is hidden, but we believe that the Torah lifestyle is a guide for life. If you want a guide, you can buy in. We are all trying to use the guide as best as we can and we feel our lives are more enriched by using the guide. Maybe you will too.

Perhaps more important is the reaction of the BT. I sent this email to Judd Magilnick, a Pacific Jewish Center board member and he offered some great insight.

First, many “not yet” BTs back off from greater commitment by rationalizing that they saw a Frum person who lacked derech eretz (common courtesy). Judd says this is the Yetzer Hara talking but Frum folks need to realize that they are being judged and should act accordingly.

I once heard that R’ Moshe Feinstein asked why we ask in Ahava Rabba that Hashem give us the ability to understand, listen to and teach Torah. Should the teaching part be reserved for teachers and rabbis? Why does veryone say it? And R’ Moshe answers that we are all teachers. We are teaching others about how the Torah wants us to behave every time we act.

Judd’s next point was even better. Why should an impious Frum person affect one’s opinion of Torah? The analogy is if one sticks his wet finger in a socket he is going to get a shock. That doesn’t indicate a flaw in elecricity! And like electricity Torah has the power to do great good and it also has the power to cause ill. It depends on its user.

So (potential) BTs, if you can use Torah for good why would you let it bother you that someone else is abusing it? One has nothing to do with the other!

As a Rabbi in shul of mostly BTs and potential BTs I hear this kind of rhetoric often. “If he’s a Frum person he shouldn’t do X or Y etc”. It is disheartening but I have one response.

I always quote Rabbi Wein: “Don’t judge Judaism by its Jews”.

Additionally, I don’t pitch anything other that learning more Torah and experiencing a Shabbos meal. One should make their personal decisions based on an informed view that can only come from one’s own study. The Shabbos meal is just to make it a little more personal and less abstract. That’s all.

So, I am looking for insight, do people really judge Torah by its Jews?

Is there an “accurate” (non-cynical) sales pitch?

Anything else in the original column that struck you?

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2 Responses

  1. E. F. Shaar says:

    I think that the original article is (still) an important read and your comments are excellent.

    Could the tendency in some frum circles to anecdotally photoshop gadolim into all saints all the time be the other side of this same coin? In other words, if one does not internalize your (R. Fink’s) succinct observation that Torah is for flawed people – then you need to create heroes more in the Christian tradition to (mistakenly) cover your tracks.

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July 2009

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