Although there’s no way we can ever observe or otherwise verify it, one of the foundations of our Torah revelation is that God doesn’t change, אֲנִי יְהֹוָה לֹא שָׁנִיתִי, Ani HaShem, Lo Shaniti, I am God, I do not change (Malachi 3:6). When we view God as even more than the totality of all that is, both within that narrow bandwidth we can observe and the much greater totality that we can’t, as the “field” of all possibilities, the unchangeability of God is practically tautological and almost trivial. In fact, it’s so easy for us who study and engage with Torah and Mitzvot to take it so much “for granted” that it’s easy to fall into the fallacy that Torah as-we-know-it is also unchangeable and thus, so should be Judaism.
God has no need to change; that concept makes no sense in relationship to Him. But everything else in the universe, including the Jewish people and our understanding and expression of Torah does. Not only were our ancestors forced to repeatedly and dramatically change their world-views (see Courage and Standing Tall), we’re constantly taught that תשובה, Tshuva, continual returning (from whatever our current positions are), is one of the strongest positive forces in the universe. Our holy sages, throughout our Talmudic and Halachic history, continuously refine their thoughts and conclusions, occasionally totally reversing their previous positions, and we’re told to see them as our role models when we study Torah. Gratuitous change, of course, is of no value, but movement towards our ultimate goal, call it either גאולה, Geula, Redemption, or משיח, Mashiach, Messiah, is our daily duty. חס ושלום, Chas v’Shalom, God forbid, that our current state of affairs is what God intends as our eternity!
No, I’m not advocating abandoning Halacha and Mitzvot. Voting with my own feet, the world of Torah is very much my world. But I mourn when it’s static because that means our ultimate Geula is being pushed back all the more. Although I’m not a member of the “We Want Moshiach Now!” choir, I believe that all Jews, at least in the depths of our neshamot, souls, share that dream. I realize that our job in bringing it about is far from completed. We have a lot of work to do and we don’t achieve anything merely marching in place.
I’m also concerned with the isolationism that currently dominates, perhaps defines, the frum world. I am, and I think we all should be proud of what a Torah-based life can be. Unfortunately, blocking all other influences carries with it the not-so-subtle message that we really doubt any value whatsoever in Torah observance. Those actions, speaking louder than any words ever can, shout that Torah and Mitzvot are inferior, ח”ו, that they’ll always lose out in any comparison with other values and lifestyles. Is it possible for us to be so ashamed of the source of our own heritage?
We value בחירה, Bechira, free will, as, perhaps, the supreme mechanism in human activity. We’re challenged to choose the good, to choose life, not because we’re coerced or because we have no alternatives, but, rather, only because it’s good and right. We’re encouraged to make His way our way, קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי, Be holy because I am holy (Vayikra 19:2). How can we steal bechira, free choice, and thus cheapen the mitzvot that people do perform, through coercion?
One of the strongest memories I have of weekday davening at Rabbi Twerski’s zt”l Bet Midrash was that, quite differently from almost every other shul I’ve ever attended, no one would parade around with the pushka collecting tzedaka (with the box for charity). Although it’s often seen as a convenience, especially in a crowded shul, the Rabbi zt”l understood that in a deeper reality this practice actually stole the mitzva from the giver. One didn’t donate only because one wanted to, but, rather, because the box was thrust under his nose.
We, in the religious Jewish world, and here I include all the denominations and even the unaffiliated and uninterested, really do share the same goal of a perfected world. I want to invite those of us who feel the path to that is best achieved through Torah and Mitzvot to discuss how we can stop shooting ourselves in the foot. How we can draw people to this effort rather than repel them. How we can make our own mitzvot more powerful. Let’s talk rather than scream. Let’s love rather than hate. Let us, together, usher in the new world we all long for.