Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why Do People Become Observant?

A propos the ongoing symposium on why people become Orthodox, R. Shlomo Aviner writes the following theoretical analysis in his message on this week's Torah portion (link):

Maran (our revered teacher) Ha-Rav Kook clarifies this question in his book "Eder Yakar." He asks: what causes heresy? He provides two answers, one a standard explanation and one that is unusual. The first is that the development of science is to blame. This is what is called "Scientific Heresy." There appears to be contradictions between the scientific description of the world and the religious description. Since people learn and rely on science, faith suffers. We will not discuss the question of who decided that such contradictions exist. It is enough for us to understand that these contradictions are imaginary and stem from a surface understanding of both science and faith. If one examines in depth, he can see that they work together.

Click here to read moreMaran Ha-Rav Kook’s second reason is what is called "Ethical Heresy." Contemporary man, armed with a critical sense, sees that the daily life of religious people is not so ethical. He therefore decides that religion lacks any benefit and that he can be an upright and ethical person outside of religion just as within religion, and actually even more so. We cannot respond to this problem because there is simply no answer. It is the greatest desecration of Hashem's Name.

Truth be told, this answer of Maran Ha-Rav Kook is not new at all. It is mentioned by our Holy Rabbis in the Gemara in Yoma (86a). They say that if a person learns Torah, but he is not careful about how he speaks – he insults and speaks ill of others, he is not honest in his business practices – he deceives and lies, people will say: "Woe is the person who learns Torah. Woe is his father who taught him Torah. Woe is his Rabbi who taught him Torah. See how corrupt are the ways and how ugly are the acts of this person who has learned Torah." As a result, Hashem's Name is desecrated.

So how do we deal with this terrible problem?!

We also know the way to help others repent: increase sanctification of Hashem's Name. The same Gemara explains: If, however, a person learns Torah and he speaks pleasantly, and he is honest in his business practices – he pays his obligations and does so on time, people will say: "Praiseworthy is the person who learns Torah. Praiseworthy is his father who taught him Torah. Praiseworthy is his Rabbi who taught him Torah. See how pleasant are the ways and how sweet are the actions of this person who learns Torah." We understand: we do not get others to repent, but bring ourselves to integrity, truth, good relations with other people and good character traits. The Gemara (ibid.) tells us that through this we sanctify Hashem's Name as it says, "You Israel, I am praised through you" (Yeshayahu 49:3).

Almost all of those who repent and become observant are not the fruit of some front-line, explanatory onslaught, but the fruit of a meeting with holy people living in their lives.

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