In the following video, it is apparent that the term OTD, or Off the Derech, is a topic that I feel passionately about.
The term OTD is an ambivalent source of turmoil for me. On the one hand, I value the term as being sourced in the Bible as discussed in Parshat Re’eh Chapter 11 verse 28:
הַקְּלָלָ֗ה אִם־לֹ֤א תִשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֹת֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם וְסַרְתֶּ֣ם מִן־הַדֶּ֔רֶךְ אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָֽנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם
and the curse, if you will not heed the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day
Since I fully believe the Torah as Divinely given, I accept the concept that following God’s commandments yields a blessed life and not following in His ways will ultimately lead to unfortunate consequences referred to here as a curse. If I did not believe that following in God’s ways was the best life for me I would have rejected it long ago. I value the term “off the derech” conceptually as referring to turning off the path that God prescribes us to follow.
However, I loathe the term as it is used and abused by people to shame others into following their own agendas, timelines, and self-defined rules of Halacha.
I truly believe that there are “Torah-observant Jews” among those who are off the derech; some who know that they have strayed and those who have no clue that they more than qualify for membership. My point in highlighting what it means to be off the derech and why it is wrong to judge or discriminate is twofold.
Firstly, it only serves to further divide our people which as we know can lead to devastating consequences. Secondly, knowing that the term is not exclusive to those who make the conscious decision to reject the commandments gives us common ground to stand on regardless of whether one accepts the Torah or not.
We all make our own decisions on what, where, when, why, and how to live our lives. Sometimes we do what is good and other times we stray. Hopefully, we are all doing the best we can at any given moment and that is the most that can be expected of anyone. Keeping this in mind is essential in building relationships that foster growth all around. I personally have gained so much from people who think differently than I do. My hope is to form mutual trust and respect so that we can bridge the divide, thus benefiting everyone.
Only when we can acknowledge that we all stray sometimes can we find our way back together again.