IS YOUR JUDAISM MOTIVATED BY KINDNESS OR CONTROL?

Thankfully, we now have staff in place to screen crazy messages and even more thankfully, I don’t have any real people in my life who feel the need to control my religiosity, but most unfortunately, not everyone who grows up Orthodox can say the same. Indeed, the people who come to Project Makom have only experienced Judaism as a form of control.

They have felt trapped, unable to express their real opinions or desires. They have had fear of repercussions if they go outside of their community’s box. And when I explain to them that much of the Orthodox world is not motivated by controlling others’ observance, many of us are instead motivated by kindness, they are incredulous. Which makes me terribly sad that this is what Judaism looks like to many Jews.

It recently occurred to me that the Orthodox world is really broken into two groups – those who are motivated by kindness and those who are motivated by control. Sure – there are the outer trappings we normally divide Orthodox groups by: What kind of yarmulke? What kind of head covering? Beard or no beard? Long or short peyos. What kind of suit?

But those are superficial divisions. Those are outer trappings. The stuff that matters is the heart inside the suit. And the question is – what is the motivation of the mitzvah-doer?

Does he engage in Torah in order to increase kindness in the world, as it says in tehillim (Psalms) “The world is built with kindness”? Or does he practice in order to make others comply with his will?

Does he open his hand to give like the Almighty does: Pote’ach Et Yadecha U’Masbia Le’Chol Chai Ratzon (You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.) Or is the hand a vehicle used to force?

While the Torah does command us “hochei’ach tochiach,” (you shall surely rebuke), the second half of the verse warns us that our rebuke must never be done in a way that could hurt another person: “and you shall not bear a sin because of him.” If the would be rebuker does not know if his rebuke will be accepted, he is warned – in Mishlei (Proverbs) –  not to do it.

And if that wasn’t clear enough, the master of the Mussar (rebuke) Movement, Rav Yisrael Salanter, had some important thoughts on the topic: “A pious Jew is not one who worries about his fellow man’s soul and his own stomach; a pious Jew worries about his own soul and his fellow man’s stomach.” 

Let’s be motivated by kindness, like Hashem is and leave free will up to each individual, like Hashem does.

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Allison Josephs

Allison Josephs has been involved in the field of Jewish Outreach for over fifteen years, working at Partners in Torah, Sinai Retreats, and NCSY, and is the Partner in Torah mentor to actress Mayim Bialik. She was named one of NJOP’s Top Ten Jewish Influencers in 2012 and was one of the Jewish Week’s 36 under 36 in 2013. Allison has been quoted or written about in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and Yahoo News. Allison has appeared on numerous television and radio networks including CBS, TLC, The Hallmark Channel, HuffPost Live, Associate Press TV, and NPR; her articles have appeared in numerous publications including the anthology Like Water on a Rock, The Washington Times, Kveller, and The Forward. She is a sought-after international lecturer whose corporate clients include Con-Edison and NYU Langone and hosts a weekly radio show on the Nachum Segal Network. She received her Bachelor in Arts from Columbia University in Philosophy and lives with her husband and four children minutes from the George Washington Bridge.