Rabbi Chayim of Tzanz once said to an evildoer, “Don’t think that because you give in to your evil inclination in some areas you therefore must be evil in all areas. Rather, in whatever ways you can, do good and overcome evil.” (Maigdolai Hachasidus: Hoadmor Maitzanz)
As a flawed and imperfect human being, I find this enormously comforting but it isn’t what Christianity always teaches. It’s also a lesson that if misused, could be employed in the service of laziness or hypocrisy. As servants of God we could be tempted to believe that it is acceptable to be obedient to God in certain areas while disobedient in others. This would certainly be in error, but there’s the opposite to consider.
How often does a “religious” person bemoan their state in never being “good enough” either for God’s acceptance or more likely for the acceptance of their faith community? All churches and synagogues (and other religious traditions) have standards, both formal and informal, and violation of said-standards can elicit responses, from the casual “tongue-clicking” of gossips and judgmental people to more formal criticisms and reprimands (and sometimes there is no more legalistic and judgmental institution than the Christian Church).
Although other streams of Orthodox Judaism may not be so open, the Chabad tends to run on the belief that encouraging a Jew to observe even one mitzvah may ultimately lead to another and then another and so on. Thus, Chabad, at least in theory, accepts Jews from all walks of life and backgrounds within their synagogues, even if they have to (or choose to) drive to services on Shabbat.
The Rebbe himself (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson), although strict and demanding in issues of halachah, nevertheless embraced a certain “flexibility” (I apologize if that’s not quite the right word) in his expectation of even Orthodox Jewish practice.
In 1977 after his heart attack, the Rebbe started seeing cardiologist Dr. Ira Weiss who was an Orthodox Jew. As with most physicians, Dr. Weiss labored under the heavy demands on his time and admitted to the Rebbe that he was often late in reciting Mincha (the afternoon prayers) which caused him great guilt and distress. The Rebbe responded:
“In a case like this, where your obligations are first to your patients, and where making them wait can cause them physical or emotional harm…you are not entitled to delay them any further. You have to finish your work with them first, and God will understand the delay in your Mincha. You don’t have to make any apologies for a late Mincha.”
Chapter 8: “I’m Also Tired, So What?” p. 127
Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History
The Rebbe went on to caution Dr. Weiss that when time is available and he is not in the service of his patients to not become lax or indifferent and that indeed he had a duty to pray at the appointed times, but he wanted to relieve Dr. Weiss not only of any guilt he experienced but even the idea that he had done anything wrong. The Rebbe went so far as to tell the doctor of the serious demands on his own time and circumstances that resulted in the Rebbe sometimes starting Mincha late.
I realize that for a Christian, this doesn’t seem like anything we would worry about. After all, we don’t have set times of prayer and compared to Orthodox Judaism, very light requirements from our religious calendar and traditions. However, as I said above, there are times when the Church can be quite legalistic in its own expectations, they simply do not codify their requirements in as open a manner as Orthodox Judaism. And the fact remains that regardless of our religious preferences, it is a human trait to judge others.
I recently read another Rabbinic commentary whose source escapes me (I thought it was Rabbi Pliskin’s but I can’t find it now). It tells of a poor man who was invited to a wedding. The family who invited him were quite well off and the man was embarrassed that he couldn’t afford a good suit to wear to the occasion. He finally asked a neighbor if he could borrow a suit and his neighbor generously lent the man a $1000 suit.
The day of the wedding, the man discovered that many of the people at the wedding were wearing suits not as fine as his and he began to look down upon them. This, of course, is the improper response, since this poor man could not have dressed as well as even the most casually attired wedding guest of his own resources.
And yet, as faulty as we all are in our obedience of and service to God, we can almost always find someone who is more (apparently) faulty than we are and at least within our own thoughts (though sometimes with our facial expressions and even our words) judge them.
J.K McKee in his book One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit opposes a Gentile (Christian) from adhering to the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews as a matter of covenant obligation. Although McKee has other reasons for believing in the “One Law” for Jews and Gentiles, he states that relating to the commandments as an obligation can lead to a form of legalism and judgmentalism within One Law Christian communities.
I think McKee is simply describing human nature. I think the “cure” if there is one, is for each of us to focus on our own lives, consider where we are called to serve God, and to attend to our own “observance,” however we choose to define it.
God is the righteous judge of the world. We, as the people we are now, are to judge no one but ourselves and even then, it would be good if we didn’t judge ourselves too harshly or in too lenient a manner. Since striking the proper balance in assessing our own service to the Almighty will take a lifetime to master (regardless of how young or old you are when you take up the task), there should be little time in your life to be concerned about how well someone else is doing.
Dr. Ira Weiss wasn’t worried about any other Jew being late in reciting Mincha, only about himself. As an Orthodox Jew, he knew the standards by which his service to God was measured. The Rebbe reminded him of the higher duty the doctor had to his patients and that God was a lot more understanding of human frailty and limitations than we are as human beings.
The Rebbe was a great believer that it was never too late to make teshuvah (repent) and to return to God. When we fail, we must remind ourselves that we too can repent and return, and that the struggle between our humanity and God’s perfection is one we will live with every day of our lives. It’s not perfection we seek in this lifetime, it’s persistence, endurance, striving to climb higher, and forgiveness when we fall. Don’t worry about the other guy. He’s got enough worries of his own without you adding to his list. God will help him even as he does you…and me.