There are way too many Orthodox Jews jumping ship these days. Commonly referred to as OTD or off the derech, many have openly declared that they reject the Orthodox lifestyle. There also exist a seemingly large number of people who are in the closet OTD’s, but can’t or don’t want to out themselves. They stay in the fold for the sake of family, friends, communities, etc. They put on their daily masks, play the role and continue to pass in society. Nobody really knows how they feel inside and I fear even if they did, they would not really care.
We have become a society of appearances. Too often decisions such as school admittance, choosing a shidduch, neighborhood, or even whose house one will eat in, are based on superficialities. One might think that judging a person based on their actions seems fair but it is not. I have long ago stopped being shocked when I meet someone who looks the part and their homes would pass the highest of kashrus inspections but internally they reject it all. They stay for whatever reasons and end up living a painful life. My heart bleeds for them and I understand them. We are surrounded by a society that at best follows the letter of the law but has miserably failed to keep its spirit alive.
Somewhere along the way, it was decided that the more chumrot/stingencies the Jew adopts the more devout the Jew is. People are one-upping their neighbor in a game of keep up with Cohen’s, where new chumrot are all the rage and if you’re not keeping them you’re simply not up to par. By buying into this game we have lost sight of the beauty of the mitzvot. Instead of bringing us closer to our neighbor as mitzvot should do, they have built barriers between us.
In this week’s parsha the Jewish nation makes the famous proclamation, “naaseh V’nishma, we will do and we will hear.” This statement seems perplexing for it seemingly makes more sense to first say we will hear and then we will do. However, as we see, it can be easier for some people today to do the mitzvot than not to. The hard part is the “lishma/to listen”, to focus and hear what the Torah really wants from us.
It is said that Hashem praised us for this declaration while asking who taught man the way of angels. Each angel is unique and has a task that only he and no other angel can perform. The angels respect and appreciate each one’s unique purpose while standing together declaring acceptance of the Almighty. There is no perceived threat among them, each one is steadfast in fulfilling his role and in doing so desires to praise his Creator.
At that moment we understood this point. We not only said naaseh – we will do Hashem’s commandments as enumerated in the Torah, but nishma – we will be attentive to what Hashem wants from us as individuals and we will heed that call.
Sadly, today we are all too often “naaseh” Jews. We know how to do the mitzvot enumerated in the Torah (and then some) but we forgot how to listen and hear the voice inside us, telling us to be who we were created to be. Our society has silenced those voices and we can not hear what is calling us or Who is calling us. When people can no longer hear the honest voice inside they are forced to break out.
If we don’t want people leaving we must abandon the shtick and break through the barriers we created. We must respect that everyone has a unique purpose and their own derech. We must encourage each member to figure out what that is and how to successfully realize their potential. We must once again declare naaseh v’nishma and elevate ourselves to the point where we can successfully hear once again.