Everyone seems to be complaining about politics these days (and there’s good reason for that!), but I want to take a break from that world in order to focus on something far more important. How easy it is to complain about Donald Trump and Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, or Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, while avoiding the one person we can actually change. Therefore, for the next 873 words, let’s stop complaining about every person under the sun and focus on what Yom Kippur is all about: being honest with – ourselves!
Friends, let’s get right to the point. For the first time in my life I’m worried, because I’ve noticed a recent trend that is very troubling. On one hand, there are more baalei t’shuvah than ever before in Jewish history; but on the other hand, I am witnessing a large number of religious Yidden going the wrong way – and I’m not referring to the youth, I am talking about adults leaving the way of Torah and mitzvos. In the last year alone, quite a few people whom I know personally – most of them married with children – have walked away from a Torah way of life. Why is this happening, and what can we do to stop this from becoming an epidemic?
The first thing to understand is that it never happens overnight. A religious 35-year-old man, with a wife and three children, does not wake up one day and stop putting on t’filin. A religious 28-year-old woman, with a husband and two children, does not suddenly decide to go to McDonald’s for lunch. This was a process, and we need to be able to recognize it and deal with it immediately, before it gets too late.
Although there are always exceptions, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the downward trend started when Torah learning was replaced by Netflix. When that happens and Torah study is no longer the priority in one’s home, things begin to slip. The “Modern Orthodox” Jew becomes more and more Modern while less and less Orthodox. He stops attending morning minyan on a regular basis and she changes her hair covering from a hat to a ribbon. He wears weekday clothes on Shabbos and she starts wearing pants outside the house. In short, instead of moving forward, they are both driving in reverse.
Many years ago, I heard a shiur given by the great Rav Noach Weinberg z”l, founder of Aish HaTorah. He said that it’s obvious to all that if a ten-year-old acts the same way as he did when he was five, that this is a tragedy. And that if a 15-year-old is the same as he was when he was ten, then it’s also a tragedy. Five years have passed, and he hasn’t grown? Hasn’t matured? How sad. He then asked: “If that’s so obvious, then why can a 35-year-old act the same way as he did when he was 30? And a 50-year-old is the same as he was when he was 45? The same rule must apply! In five years, you haven’t grown? Haven’t made positive changes in your life? What’s going on? Did someone press the “Pause” button when you hit 25, and you just stay that way until you’re 70?”
I remember hearing the above from Reb Noach, and when I thought about it, I realized that it’s even worse than what he said. If an adult does not move ahead in life, he will ultimately slip and fall backwards. There’s no way around it. If you are not increasing your Torah learning, not adding things to your frum life, and not connecting to Hashem more each year, then you will definitely – without a doubt – wind up decreasing it.
I took the lesson of Reb Noach very seriously, and constantly tried climbing higher and higher. I started by growing a beard. There’s no halachah about this, but it just made me feel more Jewish and in some weird way helped in my avodas Hashem. I then started wearing my tzitzis out, and then, way back in 1988, I did something that was extremely uncommon: I joined the blue team and started wearing t’cheiles. Over the next three decades, I began standing during leining (helps cut down on the talking, by the way), added pei’os to my beard (I never realized they were a set), started wearing a special garment and white gartel on Shabbos (and still get weird looks), and recently stopped bringing secular newspapers into my house on Shabbos. I am not telling you all this because I am a tzadik – I’m far from it! I’m just giving you small examples of what I did to increase, to grow, and to come closer to Hashem in what made me feel comfortable.
As I look around at my friends and neighbors, I see that if they don’t do these simple things, they ultimately wind up losing what they already had. Just as my small things helped move me closer to Hashem, small negative changes move one away from Hashem. Please don’t say, “It won’t happen to me” – because it will! Just as a small hole turns into a big one, if not repaired right away, a small decline in Torah observance – even something very small and seemingly insignificant – will grow and quickly become out of control.
Therefore, this year, as we prepare for Yom Kippur, let’s strengthen ourselves in our connection to our Father and King! Set times for Torah learning every day, and make sure you have at least two chavrusos every week. Then take your smartphone and use it to listen to the hundreds of thousands of shiurim on TorahAnytime, YUTorah, or any of the other massive databases available today – for free – from some incredible organizations that spread Torah across the globe.
Most important suggestion: Make time to learn with your children. Sit with them, not just on Shabbos, but during the week, as well, and light their neshamos on fire! Make Torah fun for them and show them you genuinely care about their connection to Hashem. Show them how you are growing closer to Hashem, and they will want to do the same thing!
In addition to learning, make some changes in your life: bigger kipah? (It helps cover the bald spot.) Saying brachos out loud? (I learned that from my wife – one of many things, by the way!) Wearing Rabbeinu Tam t’filin? (Still haven’t done that, but it’s on my bucket list.) You get the point – just do something positive that helps you move in the right direction.
And finally, a prayer for 5780: May Hashem bless our Nation with a year in which all Jews come home to dance in the Beis HaMikdash and attend the inauguration of King David’s grandson in the holy city of Yerushalayim. May it happen this year, Amen!
Am Yisrael Chai!
Shmuel Sackett is a 100% product of Queens. He was born in Middle Village and moved to KGH shortly before his bar-mitzvah. He graduated from YCQ (1975) and YHSQ (1979). He was Havurat Yisrael’s first Youth Director (4 years) and started the first 2 NCSY chapters in Queens. Shmuel made aliyah in 1990 and co-founded Manhigut Yehudit, together with Moshe Feiglin. His website is www.JewishIsrael.org Sackett is married with 6 children and 4 grandchildren. He lives in Herziliya Pituach.