The other day, my friend told me that in her family’s community in Israel, the rabbis eat in her parent’s home. The family keeps a fully kosher kitchen and the rabbis trust them with it. They don’t ask any questions and they never tell them what to do.
Wait, guess what. This family is not totally shomer Shabbos (meaning, they don’t fully keep the Shabbat laws). There are just certain things they won’t do, (for example, cooking on Shabbat). At the same time, she told me that they have very strong emuna (faith) and that the focus in their community is on the journey that Judaism is.
I was blown away. So many people today take kosher to these levels that start compartmentalizing different groups of Jews. (I won’t get into it here but there can be different sects of Jews, both extremely Orthodox, but they can’t necessarily eat by each other because they go by different hechshers – kosher symbols.) It’s one of the things that gets me so upset.
Because of how far it’s gone, the idea of a rabbi eating at a “regular” person’s house is actually not something one can take for granted today. There are so many communities where I doubt you’d see that.
Regarding the fact that the rabbis would never tell anyone what to do, my initial reaction is,”Wow, that’s beautiful.” I think it goes back to an understanding that our Jewish lives are about each person’s individual journey and, as my friend put it, a person should start doing a mitzva (commandment) when their soul tells them too, not when someone else does. So it’s just wrong for one person to tell another person what to do and when.
At the same time, I do see the other side of things. In very specific contexts (using sensitivity), it could be OK to tell someone what to do. I don’t know, maybe that’s not true but sometimes it’s nice for us to have someone who respects and cares for us, giving us some direction.
For example, an example that’s not about Judaism exactly, someone said to me the other day, “Deena, you should walk to work.” It didn’t really bother me that she said that because it didn’t seem condescending or forceful.
Another example. My friend was planning on buying a ticket to a show and he mentioned possibly buying it on Shabbat. I know he actually really cares about trying to keep the Torah so I said to him, “You shouldn’t buy it on Shabbat. Wait till after. It’s over at 7:00pm.” My friend said, “OK.” I do wonder if he had any negative feeling when I said that to him.
I suppose that when in doubt, it’s best to refrain, and ironically, it’s probably much harder when we’re told something by a rabbi as opposed to a friend. I guess that’s why we’re supposed to make sure we’re surrounded by good friends – good influences.
Hmmm… As always, this is not a black and white issue.