Q & A: Ask the Rabbi

“Not Being Religious, I live it Up! Why Should I Consider Being Religious?”

Yossi from Ashdod asks:

“What do the religious have in this world? Everything is forbidden. On Shabbat the religious are locked up at home and on the weekdays they are forbidden to do a lot of things! As someone not religious I have it all. So why should I even consider being religious? Do I need this?”

Rabbi Zamir Cohen answers:

“First of all it’s good that Yossi placed all the questions on the table! But let’s start with an introduction that the modus operandi of the evil inclination is to exaggeration. ‘Everything is forbidden’!  How does the evil inclination confuse people? He does like he did to Eve in the Garden of Eden. How did he get her to eat from the tree of knowledge? He told her: “Though G-d said not to eat from the trees of the garden”… is it true that G-d said that? No you could eat from every tree and only the tree of knowledge was forbidden to eat from. But he said ‘the trees are forbidden’ and Eve counters; “It’s not true we can eat from the trees of the garden just from this one G-d said not to eat.”

But the evil inclination started with a strategy of exaggeration and that’s what he says about Shabbat too. How can you keep Shabbat? Everything is forbidden on Shabbat! You can’t light a fire, you can’t go, you can’t breathe… breathing was a prohibition the evil inclination added in with exaggeration.

So to answer the question, ‘why should I strengthen myself, what’s wrong with staying not religious’ a person should know there are 2 routes you must pay attention to. If we check in our own lives, everything we do is for one of 2 reasons. Either because it’s the truth and that’s why we should do it, or because we understand it’s good for us whether or not it’s true. For example a man walking down the street sees someone faint and he knows resuscitation he quickly runs over and resuscitates him and brings him back to life. Why did he do this? Did he do it assuming ‘if I help and revive him he’ll give me $1,000’? What that at all his calculation for resuscitating him? Not at all! There is a truth that when someone is dying you do what you can to save him. This inner truth shouted out to him and he ran to help without any relation to what he may gain from it.

On the other hand a man that opens his supermarket in the morning, what’s his motivation to open it? Is it some ideal that says that people open supermarkets in the morning? No, it’s the idea that he wants to make a living and have it good in life and he needs money, what can you do? You need to work, so that’s why he opened his supermarket to have a source of income and good in life; not because this is the truth or some idealistic thing.

Judaism’s beauty is that the Torah has both parallel routes in it working together. From the side of truth that says ‘if G-d told me to do it I do it regardless of gain because G-d knows what’s good for me with no calculation of loss or gain. G-d created me and who am I to know better? The other reason also applies and it gives us strength against the evil inclination. The Torah comes with proven guarantees that if you go with it you will have it good in this world and for sure in the next world. But again in this world too!

A young man came to our Yeshiva for Shabbat and kept Shabbat for his very first time and after Shabbat so impressed me when he told me: “I discovered that to keep Shabbat all you need to do is change the pleasures I can do the entire week like driving somewhere, lighting fires and other pleasures and substitute them with other pleasures that are even greater that are unattainable all week.”

This means, specifically because your phone is turned off, true it’s prohibited, but this prohibition is liberating and brings you tranquility. You can’t drive but you can go to Synagogue and sing ‘Lecha Dodi’ with everyone, and listen to the weekly Torah portion. In a year’s time you complete the entire Torah! What an acquisition that is! You completed the whole Torah so on Simchat Torah when you dance with the Torah and kiss it you do it with a sense of accomplishment. Every Shabbat you read a portion of the Torah until you completed it! By the way, you should make sure to bring your sons with you to share in this if they’re old enough not to disturb. Many parents grew up traditionally and assume if they are familiar with the Torah their children are too but that is not necessarily so. Unfortunately by their funerals the children recite the Kaddish as if it’s a foreign language because the parents assumed their children learned all their Judaism by osmosis. He may be an accomplished lawyer but he never was exposed to this text because his father never took him to synagogue and just assumed he knew it….the father though he wasn’t religious still went to synagogue so he knew the texts but not his children….

A lawyer once was saying Kaddish for his father at his father’s funeral and he was self-consciously breaking his teeth attempting to recite it. Flustered, he closed the siddur and said to his father: “You didn’t teach me to say Kaddish, you don’t deserve that I should say Kaddish for you. The funeral can proceed!

It’s so important for your children to feel the atmosphere of the synagogue and the Lecha Dodi, the atmosphere of the Shabbat, a word of Torah or the Torah reading these are all foundational things.

But to go back and summarize the answer to this question, there are 2 paths that someone considers and draws strength from them to do what he does. One is ‘this is the truth and I do it even if there’s no gain from it for it’s the truth. And there’s the other path that says even though you’re doing it any ways for no personal gain the Torah says you will still gain from it any ways. You can see benefits in this world from keeping the mitzvoth!

When a couple doesn’t touch each other before marriage it contributes so much to their marriage and it contributed to them for all their lives. They exercise some self-control before the wedding and they gain immensely afterwards.

A man sat next to me when I was flying to South Africa for a seminar named Eliyahu Itzchakov who is a business man that has a warm heart for Judaism.  He said to me “Do you know why there are so many divorces with our young generation and there’s no love and relationship between couples? The Torah says “a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and become one flesh.” The Torah uses the word ‘cleave’ like glue. Did you ever see how people use contact cement? You spread it on one surface and then you spread it on the other surface and you can’t put them together right away, you must wait. The glue must start to dry and then the glue sticks really tight. In our generation, the youngsters don’t have the patience to wait until the glue dries a little before the wedding to make the bond really tight after the wedding. That’s why they get divorced after the wedding. The Torah says ‘he will cleave to his wife’ but they didn’t wait like they were supposed to so their whole bond is weak for their whole life together.

But this is true for all of the mitzvoth of the Torah; they are instructions in the manufacturer’s manual. There’s nothing like the manufacturer’s instructions to get the maximum benefit from your product. If you buy an off the road vehicle and the manual says ‘when you hear a long beep turn off the motor and let it rest for 10 minutes to cool it off.’ He rides around for a few weeks really happy until he hears the beep. If he has any brains he’ll wait 10 minutes and then continue riding after the motor cools off so the engine block doesn’t explode. But if is not smart he’ll continue driving and say “who is this manufacturer anyway telling me what to do! I’m going to do what I want!” So he keeps on riding and boom! His 50,000 shekel investment blew up!

So too, all he mitzvoth in the Torah are meant for our good. There are things that science revealed are beneficial for us and there are things that science hasn’t revealed but we must know that G-d wants it this way for whatever reason He has that I’m not aware of and it doesn’t matter if I know why. That’s why the Jewish nation said ‘We will do and we will understand’; even though they didn’t know the reason why. G-d said to do it and He knows what’s best for me so even if I don’t understand why I’ll do it. It’s the best thing for me!


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