I recently bumped into a relative of mine who grew up Modern Orthodox. As evening approached, I mentioned that the Minchah z’man would soon be over, and he smiled. I rarely give mussar to friends or family because I know it’s hardly appreciated, but I feel close to him so I took a shot. He immediately explained to me that he learns every day and gives more charity than most people who earn more than he does, and therefore, G-d certainly understands if he doesn’t say Minchah every day.
The next day, I happened to fall into a conversation with an older Modern Orthodox gentleman who has never missed a day of tefillin in his entire life. After some back and forth, he admitted to rarely wearing tzitzit, justifying it because he fulfilled his obligation by wearing a tallit every day when he put on tefillin.
I have to admit that I, too, was guilty of this type of thinking for many years. I justified skipping Maariv, benching, or making brachos by reasoning, “Come on, I do so much more than so many of my friends,” or ” I didn’t grow up that way.” As I got older, I realized that the only one losing out was me, and that was because I lacked a fundamental understanding of the purpose of the mitzvot.
Each commandment, whether we realize it or not, was created to benefit our souls. When we give charity, pray for others, or help someone in their time of need, we are elevating our souls. Yet Hashem is a realist. Just as some people can only graduate high school, others can go much further, attaining high level degrees in medicine. And the few select that are willing to work even harder and make the investment can become highly skilled brain surgeons. Similarly, G-d knows that most people would only attain a “high school education” in relation to their souls, while others would be willing to go the extra distance, work harder, and attain the higher degree.
The Torah tells us that Noach walked with G-d, yet Avraham walked ahead of G-d. Our rabbis have explained this to mean that by Noach walking with G-d, it’s implying that he only did the bare minimum, whereas Abraham walked ahead of G-d, always trying to do more. We see further proof of this by the fact that Noach didn’t save one person, whereas Avraham left Charan “with all the souls he made.” This distinction is so critical in understanding the basic difference between a Jew and the rest of the world. G-d created the seven Noahide laws in order to create a functional world of law and order. But Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, knew that man could do so much more than just get by in a world of law and order. He wanted man to climb new spiritual heights, and to do that, G-d provided a Torah. G-d gave us 613 opportunities to grow closer to him. G-d did not want us to only follow his laws out of fear, but he wanted man to attain an even closer relationship to Him by doing it out of love.
Rather than consider Minchah a burden, look at it as another opportunity to say, “G-d, I’m not just praying out of fear, but rather, I’m so lucky I can stop in the middle of my day and acknowledge, thank and beseech You, just as our holy forefather Yitzchak did.”
Rather than try to get out of wearing tzitzit rationalizing that we wear a tallit, let’s take the relationship to a higher level of doing what is pleasing before G-d, rather than trying to pacify Him by doing the minimum. Never mind that the reward for doing mitzvot is so great, prompting Pirkei Avot to remind us that one minute in heaven is greater than all physical pleasures in the world. Perhaps the reward for wearing tzitzit throughout the entire day as opposed to just for Shacharit is unbelievable? Pirkei Avot warns us of the danger of creating our own hierarchy of mitzvot, because we can’t possibly know their innate holiness. (Shaatnez comes to mind.)
Another danger in the “pick and choose” approach to Judaism is that our children see the hypocrisy and inconsistencies. For you, davening isn’t so critical; for your kid, kashrut isn’t so important. And then the games begin. Aside from the halachic infraction, you can’t, in good conscience, say that one law is more important than another.
It’s also interesting to note that most people never say, “I’ve made enough money today, I don’t need any more,” yet when it comes to mitzvot, we conveniently feel satiated thinking we’ve done enough.
There was once a man who lived his whole life doing the bare minimum, always reminding those around him, “l’chatchila it’s not great, but bdi’eved, it will do.” Years pass and one day, he crosses over and finds himself in heaven. The angel brings him to a beautiful castle laden with the finest accoutrements, yet before he can make his entrance, he is diverted to a tiny, plain yet functional home. Confused, he asks the angel, “I don’t want to be here – what happened to the castle you just showed me?” The angel explains, “It’s true, l’ichatchila, this isn’t great, but bdi’eved, it will do.” There is a direct correlation between how we treat G-d’s laws, and how close He will allow us to dwell near Him. And that can only be attained in our short time here. Once we cross over, game over.
Too many of us treat the laws with leniency because we do not see the inherent value in each and every commandment. Let’s stop playing games with G-d’s rule book. It’s tried and true and when we neglect certain commandments, the only one who loses out is us. In so many ways.