Around 10 years ago, I shared a Shabbos meal with some friends along with a 20-year-old friend of their daughters. During the conversation, she innocently revealed that she considered herself Orthodox but sometimes turned on lights and checked text messages on Shabbos.
Recently, I spoke to a group of college girls who all complained that meeting normal Modern Orthodox men who wear tefillin every day (forget about minyan) and keep Shabbos properly is difficult.
Where exactly is the line between Modern Orthodox and Conservative? While we stand equal in G-d’s eyes, there has always been a clear distinction between observant and non-observant, just as there is a clear distinction between milk and meat, kosher and treif, tamei and tahor, Shabbos and chol, chametz and kosher l’Pesach, and wool and linen. To deny these distinctions is to deny Judaism at its core.
Hashem wants us to be holy, and we therefore are taught early in life to distinguish between yes and no and right and wrong. After all, if you only keep Shabbos on “convenient” weekends, what does that say about your relationship with Hashem and His Torah? “Hey G-d, thanks for everything, I love you and will keep your laws every day – except on weekends when I want to sleep.”
How embarrassing! Not too mention the fact that children always see their parents’ hypocritical and inconsistent behavior. (And have we forgotten that G-d, too, is watching?) Saying, “This law is important, but this one isn’t” is no different than picking and choosing which ingredients on a cake recipe we wish to use.
Yeast may be a tiny component in the mix, but without it, a cake cannot rise. Without a tiny rubber 1/4 inch O-ring, a pressure cleaner cannot operate properly (I attempted it – big mistake). Similarly, by purposely ignoring a mitzvah or two, we literally dilute the light of G-d by watering down his most perfect recipe – the Torah!
Some mistakenly think a “quick Shabbos text” won’t hurt anyone. But smoking a cigarette doesn’t outwardly seem to hurt anyone either. Yet, science has now conclusively proven that smoking causes untold physical damage within. Likewise, violating Shabbos causes untold spiritual damage to us and our children.
Modern Orthodoxy is defined as a life of observing mitzvot while remaining part of the secular modern world. Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, zt”l, who came to represent Modern Orthodoxy, preached Torah Umadda. Rather than ignore Aristotle or the sciences, he relished in studying them, synthesizing them with the Rambam’s teachings. So long as halacha precedes our actions, there is no telling how far man can go.
But we can’t bend or chas v’shalom ignore halacha. Once we do so, the slope becomes quite slippery. For you, it’s eating in a non-kosher dairy establishment (“it’s just a salad and fish”), for him it’s walking through an electric door on Shabbos, and for her, it’s turning on the air conditioner on Shabbos for “menuchah” (yup, I’ve heard that one).
All the excuses stem from the same place: a selfish desire that is in direct violation of G’d’s law. And once we start with that nonsense, there’s no telling where it will end. I remember a friend who grew up in a religious home – except on the rare occasion that his mother needed a light off on Friday night. To her, it was just the flick of a switch, but to her son, it wreaked of hypocrisy and sadly it sent him (and now his children) in the wrong direction.
It’s no secret that the Modern Orthodox community is dying as many of our children are either moving to the right or to the left as they see the inconsistencies from within. So many of them yearn for the real Jewish experience, which explains the hard pull to the right.
Ultimately, we must realize that picking and choosing mitzvot that appeal to us is a dangerous game. The Dubno Maggid related that a poor thief once went into a synagogue to steal all its silver ornaments and large crystal chandelier. He realized, though that everyone would notice if these items were suddenly missing, so he went upstairs to the attic looking for something whose absence wouldn’t be noticed. Although the attic was dark, he managed to find a large hexagonal screw and started removing it in the hopes of selling it.
On his last turn of the screw, he suddenly heard a loud crash. He went downstairs and saw the synagogue’s chandelier smashed in pieces. Apparently, he didn’t realize that the small screw was holding up a large chandelier.
The items we perceive as small are actually connected to things much larger than we could ever imagine. Like Hashem. And the future of our children and our grandchildren.