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How many times have you met someone who openly declares “I know this is wrong, but I’m gonna do it anyway.” The conscience doesn’t allow for the behavior, so a feeling of unease commonly referred to as cognitive dissonance creates the groundwork for the rationalization process. And with that, the games begin.

Even with regard to man’s very first sin, when Hashem asked Adam “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree?” Adam blamed the “woman whom you gave me” rather than simply apologizing. When Hashem asks Chava about her actions, she too passes the buck, immediately blaming the serpent “who deceived me.”


The rationalization process is no less functional when it comes to our attitude toward mitzvot.

Take the case of an old friend I spent a weekend with almost 30 years ago, whose wife didn’t cover her hair. Many of my friend’s wives still don’t cover their hair, and whether or not someone does or doesn’t has nothing to do with me.

However, it did not sit well with this guy, as he was simply uncomfortable with accepting the fact that his wife might be doing something wrong. Rather than leave it alone, he set out on a mission to justify why it was not necessarily an obligatory biblical commandment for a woman to cover her hair. While he was at it, he also justified a woman wearing pants. Again, whether or not a person wears pants or covers their hair is their business, but saying that it is 100 percent permissible isn’t rooted in our mesorah.

Suddenly, this mildly educated man began searching for any opinions – no matter how minor and lenient – to justify his non-observance of many of our laws.

Yet when it came to other mitzvot, like davening, which were very dear to him, he would pray for twice as long as the average person, constantly criticizing the chazan for moving “too quickly.” Yet when asked why he didn’t wear tzizit, he explained that it was a mitzvah to wear them, but not a sin if you didn’t…

It was almost as if his observance of Torah Judaism was modeled after the old Mr. Potato Head game, where you pick and choose the nose, hat and glasses, and build your own potato head.

Back in the day, I too focused on certain laws, like tefillin, which I always connected to, while ignoring other commandments, like Mincha. Why? Because I loved putting on tefillin but didn’t always feel like davening in the afternoon.

How many people foolishly delude themselves into thinking that living in Israel gives them a pass when it comes to keeping Shabbos? How many people think that if they cover their hair and cover their knees and elbows, they can behave rudely or unethically?

In my youth I was selfish, focusing on the things that were important to me while I ignored other commandments that I deemed not as important. I didn’t perceive their infinite value, seeing them as inconvenient. How foolish of me!

After all, how can we with our limited capacity, not to mention, our own subconscious ulterior motives, possibly understand the multi-layered reasons behind Hashem’s commandments? It’s very nice that many of us see the value of keeping Shabbos or keeping kosher, but even if we didn’t, the commandment is no less obligatory. Aside from the benefits we perceive, there are additional reasons to perform mitzvot. Reasons beyond our understanding. Hidden spiritual reasons. Yet for every single Jew, the single most important reason for us to observe the Torah is that G-d charged the Jew with a clear mission: accept the Torah as ol malchus shamayim, the yoke of Heaven.

A dispute in tractate Berachot, in discussing shliluach haken, shooing away the mother bird, furthers the idea of following the laws simply because Hashem commanded them when. One opinion states that it is to learn compassion, while the other says it is an edict from Hashem, plain and simple.

The games we play are no different from the young boy who got a bow and arrow for his birthday and immediately went outside to practice in his yard. A few minutes later his father stepped outside and was amazed to see a dozen arrows dead in the center of a dozen different bull’s eyes.

“That’s amazing, Son! How do you manage to hit a bull’s eye every time?” “It’s no big deal, Dad. I shoot the arrow first, and then, wherever it lands, I paint circles around it!”

How many of us work mitzvot around our lifestyle, and instead of aiming for the targets of life set forth by the Torah, draw circles around this lifestyle and call it a bull’s eye?

When we meet Hashem, He will ask us, as he asked Adam, “Where are you?” Are we going to make excuses, blaming the “woman whom you gave me,” or “the serpent who deceived me?”

Rather than experience that shame, let us proudly declare to Hashem what Korach is still declaring, according to the Gemara Bava Basra: “Moshe emes v’Soraso emes – Moshe is true and his Torah is true.”


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Avi Ciment lectures throughout the world and has just finished his second book, Real Questions Real Answers, and can be reached at