A hypocrite in synagogue

It's become a weekly ritual for Saturday mornings. I walk with my older daughter and talk. She waits outside Starbucks while I go in to get a coffee. Then we walk some more, and part ways.

She has her synagogue, and I have mine.

This week we talked about morality. (When don't we?) I told her, "You have a halachic mind."

("Halacha" means "the system of Jewish law"; "halachic" means "in accordance with the Jewish legal framework.")

She does; she has a holy soul; she sees things in terms of black and white, you're either adhering to the Law or you aren't.

My thoughts were somewhat turbulent. "Here's what I can't understand. If there is only good and bad, how can there be two moralities?"

"I don't understand," my daughter said.

"Imagine a boy sexually molested in yeshiva," I started off. "He gets addicted to drugs, he totally rejects religion, he eats pig, he's not religious at all. But then he goes to rehab and gets his life back, and isn't religious but goes to synagogue maybe sometimes. I don't believe that G-d judges him for the bad."

"I don't either," she said.

"But that's not even a good example," I said. "Because something happened."

"Go on."

"Imagine that you're just a secular Jew," I said. "And you just don't believe in the halachic system, or you don't believe that halacha matters, compared with treating people with respect."

"Well there's no distinction between halacha and treating people with respect," she said. "You've always been lazy Orthodox."

I was silent. She had silenced me.

"I am a hypocrite," I said.

We walked and walked. The cars rushed by.

Finally we landed across the street from Starbucks. There were tables and chairs set up outside.

"Do you want to sit outside while I get my coffee?" I asked. On the Sabbath, Orthodox Jews stay out of stores.

"It's OK, I'll wait out here," she said. She leaned against the iron fence and looked up, and sideways.

(Orthodox Jews avoid ma'aras ayin, literally "appearance to the eye," meaning she wouldn't want someone to see her and think that she endorses shopping on the Sabbath.)

Outside, we kept on walking.

"Grandpa and I had a talk about this," I said to her. My father is an ordained rabbi. He told me a few months ago that I had strayed too far from halacha. And that I would die at an early age if I didn't clean up my act.

"You did? About what?"

"Grandpa said that everybody does their own thing in life, but there are certain basics you just have to keep."


We reached the intersection where we usually part ways.

"Well I'm going to go now," I said. "Have a good time in shul. I'll see you later."


She hugged me, a deep and feeling hug. And walked away from me.

Later, I sat in synagogue and looked at the huge golden letters inscribed on the Aron, the "Ark," the place where the Torah scrolls are kept. "Know before whom you stand," they said. ("Da lifnei mi atah omaid.")

דע לפני מי אתה עומד

My younger daughter sits next to me in that synagogue and she happened to lean over that day and ask me, "Why did they write that over the Ark?"

It wouldn't occur to her to need that kind of reminder.

"Because people are arrogant," I said, thinking of myself. "They think that they can do things all on their own."

"OK, but I still don't understand why they needed to print it so big and right there," she said.

I looked at her and felt bad that she couldn't understand, but I could. Obviously the letters were aimed straight at me.

"The point is to remind you that you are nothing before G-d, and to remember that after you leave the synagogue and go about your business for the week."

The sermon ended that week with a story, a joke and a reminder.

"You can fool the rest of the world, but you can't fool yourself."

All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by me.