Religious Coercion has No Legitimate Role in Orthodox Judaism

This brief example from my experience with Rabbi Shloime Twerski zt”l, illustrates a vital and absolutely necessary component of traditional, you can call it orthodox, halacha.

Most synagogue weekday services that I’ve ever attended feature someone walking through the congregation with the tzedakah pushkas (charity receptacles), which can often be very convenient.  Rabbi Twerski zt”l, on the other hand, would never allow this.  He realized that doing so actually stole the mitzva of giving tzedakah by introducing even a tiny amount of coercion or social pressure to perform a mitzvah.  (It also deprived us of the opportunity of going out of our way–even just a few steps–to help others.)  This policy daily reinforced his important teaching that each of us has a unique halachic path, a unique ‘אבודת ה, Avodat Hashem, way of serving The Creator.  We significantly diminish our effectiveness when we act in order to meet others’ expectations or, even worse, demands.  As the Rabbi taught, and as his finest students have taught me, and as I try to pass on to my students, God doesn’t want our חומרות, chumrot, stringencies–He wants our love.  And love’s deepest and strongest and truest expression demands that it be freely and lovingly and energetically given.

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