One fine Shabat lunch, which my friend was graciously sharing with me, amid the typical conversations that are usually forgotten in a hour or two, we had one that really stuck with me.
It all started with the talks about the “inner city youths”, with whom our borough is simply swimming, and whose fine representatives usually become (well, not to put a too fine point on it), public menace the minute they are dismissed from school. The funny thing is – and we basically all agreed on it – is that the majority of them are actually pretty harmless. If you ask me, all they need are both parents in their lives, decent role models, and someone with a brain and honesty who would explain to them that this is the best country in the world, and if they apply themselves, they could literally be anyone they aspire to be. But that is the discussion for another time.
Anyway, couple of ladies pointed out that even the scary-looking ones that loiter by the local 7-11 would usually open the doors, hold them, and say “here you go, ma'am” - especially if they see a woman with a stroller; and, that, unfortunately, our own dear youths would hardly be that polite in the same situation. We had an almost unanimous consensus by the table on that one – minus my friend's son in law.
He had a very interesting counter-argument. In his opinion, we should look at this situation from an opposite angle: when an urban youth really has no challenges aside from being decent to a passing lady with a stroller, a Jewish youth has many challenges in form of all the mitzvoth he has to observe, so he ends up trying to pick and choose which challenges he would really concentrate one, and in which he would just be more lax, so to speak.
I have to say that in my almost twenty five years of living in this wonderful community I finally developed a bit of thickness to my hide, so utterances like these stopped shocking me. And even though they never fail to raise my blood pressure, I also learned not to engage in too many arguments - simply because it's usually pointless.
However, the question still remains: who gave us the right to decide which “challenges” are we going to concentrate on and which ones we would not? We are all human and we all make mistakes – but when do we decide that instead of trying our best to serve Him, we will just arbitrarily decide what floats our boat and what does not? Moreover, when these kinds of decisions are made, why are they, without fail, always end up in favor of “bigger things” and atrocious manners? How come the need to be decent to your fellow human beings, never mind the fellow Jews, always ends up first on the list of things to be sacrificed in order to free your energy for the “bigger things”? And when will the simple realization dawn that if the situation is reversed, and a Jewish youth would block the blessed doors of the 7-11 from the mother of his “inner city” counterpart, or cut her off, of slam these doors in her face, he (and his parents) would be guilty of nothing less than hillul Hashem? When will this overblown gayva d'kiddusha (which long ago turned into simple gayva) will be substituted with the acknowledgment of the fact that we don't exist in a vacuum, and fellow humans would appreciate the same treatment that we ourselves would enjoy? And if learning Torah is paramount to our existence, when will we learn one of its many lessons: when Heavenly Father is the angriest at us, it is always in the situations when humans sin against each other, and not against Him?
I am glad to say that in our small circle my friend's sil was in the minority – one of the many reasons I love my friend and love visiting her. However, our arguments failed to persuade him, and after about fifteen minutes he simply decided to give up trying to prove his point, and that makes me pretty sad – because I know that he is by far not alone in his believe.