What I love most about being Jewish: #7 (counting down)

OK, I got a #7 in my countdown of things I love about being Jewish.

I love that in Judaism, actions are way more important than thoughts and feelings. Intent is more of a perk than a requirement. Doing things with the correct and pure intention is a goal to strive for but if you’re doing things for the “wrong” reasons, it doesn’t necessarily take away from the action.

This is of course a complex idea. Is it always true? I suppose it’s not. If the unhealthy intent has negative repercussions then it’s not good. Definitely there are times when it’s better not to do the “good” thing.

Anyway, I had an example of this today. I ate sushi at a sushi place and didn’t leave a tip. Afterwards I realized that since I’m used to taking the sushi out, I’d automatically skipped the tip so I decided to go back this afternoon and leave a tip.

On the way I was wondering why I’m doing it. I think I just felt bad for having not given it but I also thought of other possible reasons that I decided to walk back there. One was that I wear a star of David necklace and it might give a bad impression of the MOT (members of the tribe). What I like is that that actually has basis in Judaism. People often talk about acting as a chillul Hashem versus a kiddush Hashem. A chillul Hashem is when you do something that somehow desecrates the name of God. Often I’ve seen this used when an outwardly Jewish person is acting inappropriately. Madoff is a chillul Hashem. : ) A kiddush Hashem is when you sanctify God’s name and it is the opposite. Walking back to the sushi place, star of David and all, was potentially a kiddush Hashem. So the idea with chillul or kiddush Hashem is that you don’t only have the intent of doing a good deed but also the intent of what impression you’re making on those around you.

I do think that the ultimate goal is to do good things because you want to do good things, but our egos are big and so meanwhile, while working towards having pure intentions, it is still considered very good to do things not always for the purest of reasons.

P.S. By the way, I’m using the chillul/kiddush Hashem idea even though I do have issues with it. I hate when we are too eager to gain the acceptance of those around us. We need to care what people think but definitely, 100%, only to a certain extent. Beyond that, it’s just destructive to ourselves. And as my grandmother says, “What’s good for Jews, is good for everyone.” And visa versa.


15 thoughts on “What I love most about being Jewish: #7 (counting down)

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  1. Well, first of all I still don’t know if I should have told the story because that’s sort of like lauding my own praises.

    Also, I wrote about the idea of being a chillul/kiddush Hashem as if that is not a pure motive for doing good but apparently it is. So I’m not sure it was a good example of having less than pure motives. I guess that’s what I’m not sure about. If the only reason I went back was to make sure we didn’t make a bad name for ourselves, in a sense that is a noble reason, on the other hand, it’s lame because it misses the whole point of the actual good deed: That I should give the tip because the person deserves the tip.

    I have heard someone say that actions without intention are worthless. They were saying this as if it was a Jewish perspective. I do disagree but I suppose there is a fine balance and also, if you don’t try to work towards having good intentions, I think that the good deeds will backfire and you will not be a good person but instead a person with terrible inner conflict.

    And that’s all I have to say. Thoughts?

    1. Deena…

      Ok…this is complex but I will try and keep it simple.

      You wear the star of David for a reason right?

      Let me ask you why?

      I am willing to bet, that it stands for something good right? It stands for a way of life for which you ultimately believe in right?

      So…is your situation the end result of having to live up to wearing the star, or are you wearing the star as a symbol of who you really are?

      I will give you my personal account…I am choosing to wear my kippah more often, outside of shul. It is a difficult transition for me, but I am slowly doing so. When I was wearing it, I felt odd ordering a sandwich from a non-kosher deli. Where I live is nearly impossible to find a kosher one, without a drive, and so it is a practical vs. responsible decision on my part…no, I don’t agree with it, but that is not the point here.

      My point is that we choose to wear those items, and it just so happens to remind us why.

      Does this make sense?

      I am glad to hear you went back…I would have done the same. In the end…it should not matter what brought you back, but that you went back.

      1. I like the discussion here. Aharon, I guess you’re right that it’s the question of the chicken and the egg. I’m not acting a certain way because of the star of David but wearing the star of David because I believe in acting a certain way.

        I just, as you probably have noticed, don’t want to be doing something for the wrong reason. Even though my #7 (well, this post) is about how in Judaism the intent isn’t the most important thing, I guess I’m hypocritical because I want the proper intent. I don’t want to do things because of societal pressure or other not meaningful reasons. I want to do it (it meaning anything I choose to do, I guess) because I choose to do it because I think it’s good to do.

        Maybe I’m asking for too much. I know that you cannot be totally disconnected from society. I also know that some society pressure can be good once in a while. I guess I just like to try, as much as possible, to be doing things not from pressure but because I decide it’s what I want to do.

        P.S. I spilled tea all over the table right before my friend and I left the sushi place, btw. :) I think that afterwards, thinking about the woman going to clean up my mess triggered the thought, “Shoot, and I didn’t even give her a tip!” Just thought I’d share that with you. :)

  2. I guess I do not have a problem with you using this as an example. Teaching and sharing requires examples.

    In addition, I am not sure in matters why you went back. The important thing is that you went back and did the right thing. I think it is important to lead by example and that was a good example.

    @Aharon – I started wearing my Kippah 3 years ago. I wear it everywhere except when I am doing yard work. It does me pay attention to what I am doing as a Jew. I know that is the first thing most people see and so whatever I do is seen in that light. This is especially true where I live. I usually only see kippahs in the synagogue.

    1. mTp…thanks for sharing your thoughts about the kippah. I feel the same, and am trying to meld my two worlds together…my work and my religious lives. I am sure it was a difficult transition for you, and I would like to hear about it…if you feel like sharing. I would be the only one in my work, and in my area. Unless I am in the eruv where the Orthodox Jews live, I am the only one.

      Wearing a kippah, and in Deena’s case…her star of David, can only make us stronger Jews.

      By wearing these symbols, we acknowledge what Hashem has given to us, to remind us, who we are and what we stand for.

    1. Cool you noticed that. Well, actually, I didn’t share it for a reason. I was a bit disappointed how it worked out. As I walked into the place, the woman who’d served me looked at me, turned and walked away (she was probably thinking, “Oh, there is the tea-spiller!”). So, it was someone else who did come up to me. And I did something so silly! I should have specifically asked to talk to her but I didn’t! I explained to the guy that I was in earlier but forgot to give a tip and I gave him the buck fifty. He looked at me a little incredulously, laughed, took the money and put it in a jar. I walked out.

      I felt so dumb for not asking to talk to her directly and I just hoped that he would tell her why I had come back.

      Why didn’t I ask to talk to her? Because I felt like it would prove that I was doing it just for the kavod rather than just because it was a good thing to do. In retrospect, that is such bs. Oh well.

  3. I often feel that even though one can engage in something for what at first seems to be superficial reasons, over time he will learn the deeper meaning and purpose to his actions. With that deeper understanding, he then can apply his ethical standards in a more clear and thought-out manner.
    For instance, a guy could initially want to exercise to impress a cute girl in his class, but then he later learns the overall benefits of engaging in exercise in terms of his lifestyle and general health and continues to exercise even after the girl’s rejection.

    As for wearing a kippah, I choose not to wear one for the following reasons. I am studying in a rural town where, to my knowledge, I am the only Jewish student. As for background information, I don’t celebrate the Sabbath, nor do I pray three times a day. I do keep kosher, but that is because I am a vegetarian. For most people in my town, I will be their sole chance of interaction with a Jew. This could result in the general public stereotyping my personal actions/behaviors as general character traits of all Jews.

    Just how Deena discussed about a “chillul Hashem,” people might associate myself on those same terms. I am proud of being Jewish, but I fear that when people pass by me, instead of learning about my Jewish morals and beliefs (which takes time and the process of actually having an in-depth conversation with me), they will equate myself and all Jews as being completely secular, completely materialistic to the point where we only can be identified by the kippahs and jewelry which we wear. And that is not the message I want to portray. Anyone can easily buy a Jewish star necklace off Ebay. It is much more difficult to study and embrace the principles of “how to live a meaningful life,” which are prescribed in the Tanach.

    An example that comes to mind is that after a student completes his second chemistry course, he is given a standardized test which is given to most chemistry public-school students across the nation. The test covers a wide variety of topics, ranging from nomenclature to chemical properties. One of the topics on the exam is organic chemistry, a topic which my brother’s class was taught nothing about. My brother calls me at 11 o’clock the night before the exam and asks, ” What is there to know about organic chemistry?” I told him that there isn’t a ‘magical five-minute -all-encompassing answer’ to his question, and he would probably do better on the test if he reviewed things he was actually taught. In college, the topic of organic chemistry is taught in a curriculum of two semesters, not five minutes. And I think the same rule applies to others understanding Judaism. They’ll see my outward appearance, and feel satisfied with the superficial answer that there isn’t anything really special associated to Judaism, just a guy who has to wear this funny hat-thingy. By viewing myself and Judaism in these terms, they miss the deeper and truer answer. So until I learn how to speak really quickly, I think I will pass on wearing a kippah.


    I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life!

    (Deut. 30:19)

    It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.

    -Fight Club

    1. Zachary, thanks for your comment!

      See, that’s why I do believe (theoretically, at least) that we are supposed to just be who we want and believe we should be and we cannot worry about what others think of us. Sometimes it can help us grow but I’d think that more often than not, it can inhibit our growth, the stress of trying to consider what others might think or do think.

      I once heard a gay guy talking about how he feels like he always has to be on his best behavior because everyone is judging all gays according to how he acts. If he does something not nice, people will say, “See? That is what gays do.” But though he should try to act like a decent person, is it his job to represent all gays? It may be like that to a certain extent because we do generalize according to examples we see, but that pressure shouldn’t be on him, don’t you think?

      At the same time, we do know that this exists – that people generalize like that – so I suppose we need to keep it in mind. Whatever my theories, I definitely have that in mind most, or all, of the time.

      Shabbat Shalom. :)

  4. I had asked my Rabbi friend for the following…on page 31a in masechta Kiddushin: gadol hametzuveh v’oseh yoteir mimi she’eino metzuveh v’oseh – greater is the one who is commanded and does than one who volunteers and does.

    This shows us that you are more greater by going back and fulfilling a mitzvah, because you are required to, than if you are just doing it for the goodness of your heart…as the laws state above.

    Mazal tov for doing the right thing, no matter what brought you there (or back rather.)

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