About 15 years ago, a friend of mine living on the Upper West Side told me that many of his friends who lived on the upper floors of their buildings were practically forced to push the elevator button on Shabbos. He explained that while it wasn’t conventional and he tried not to do it himself, it had become an accepted practice in his neighborhood.
I mentioned to him that with this kind of attitude toward keeping mitzvot, it would only be a matter of time before these very same people justified turning off lights on Shabbos, skipping Minchah, and eating dairy in treif restaurants.
The other night, my friend’s daughter mentioned that she recently ate Shabbos lunch in a very popular Upper West Side building. Waiting in the lobby for a friend, she was surprised to see a large percentage of Modern Orthodox kippah-wearing boys walking through the electric sliding door and pushing the elevator button.
After lunch, one of the guests – all of whom were Modern Orthodox and had attended Jewish day schools – casually turned on the TV. No one said anything, probably because of peer pressure or, worse, because they didn’t regard it as such a big deal.
Last month, I attended a Modern Orthodox minyan and witnessed several men and children speaking during Kedushah, a serious transgression that even I knew was a no-no when I used to be an incessant talker in shul.
Guys, this stuff ain’t happening in regular frum communities. And please don’t tell me about the exceptions. Even the biggest shyster in a black hat tries to hide his sinful ways because, deep down, he knows he’s wrong. Many Modern Orthodox Jews, though, openly ignore halacha.
Despite parents spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Jewish education, many of their children text on Shabbos, skip putting on tefillin, and don’t strictly keep kosher. I’ve spoken to many of these young adults, and you’d be shocked to find how many don’t truly believe that Hashem actually authored the Torah. Yikes.
Perhaps many of their parents didn’t convey to them the importance and beauty of keeping Shabbos or any of the other mitzvot. Or they only went to shul to discuss business and sports rather than pray to G-d. Remember, it’s not what you say, but what you do that counts most.
Sadly, we rarely contemplate the ramifications of our actions. For example, if I decide to skip Minchah today, I not only have failed to fulfill a positive commandment to praise G-d who created me; I have conveyed to my children that it’s okay not to do a mitzvah if you’re not in the mood. I’ve also lowered my standing as an eved Hashem.
Serving G-d isn’t a 9-5 task. It’s 24/7. We can’t tell the Boss of Bosses that we’re only available to follow his laws 99 percent of the time. How would we feel if G-d were only there 99 percent of the time for us? We need Hashem 100 percent all the time.
My dear brothers, just as a slight change in the trajectory of a rocket can alter its intended course, so too can small changes in our observance lead us far afield from our intended destination. We all love Hashem and want to have great, G-d-fearing children but it doesn’t happen by osmosis. It takes devotion and commitment.
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah) warns us “not to trample light mitzvot under our heels.” We can’t simply ignore halacha because it’s inconvenient. Pirkei Avos reminds us to be careful with light and heavy mitzvot because we don’t know the reward for either. And just as we can’t know the reward for either, so too we can’t know the far-reaching deleterious consequences if we treat mitzvot – especially the small ones – with disregard.