The All or Nothing Fallacy
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
A common response to a question like “Why don’t you keep a kosher home?” or “Why don’t you attend synagogue services?” goes something like this: “I don’t keep kosher out of my home and I don’t keep other Mitzvoth, so why should I be a hypocrite by keeping a kosher home and attending services?”
It always amazes me how this type of reasoning sounds so reasonable in a spiritual setting but so ridiculous in any other setting. Consider the logic of someone who says: “Since I don’t eat a balanced and healthy diet, it would be hypocritical of me to exercise and quit smoking.” Clearly, this is illogical and counter-productive. This is what I call the “All or Nothing Fallacy.” The fact is that in the spiritual arena the same principles apply. Every positive act should be valued and performed irrespective of any other activity we may partake in.
A hypocrite is someone who pretends to have values or virtues that he/she does not possess. Someone who is imperfect or inconsistent is not a hypocrite. The fact is that there is no human being on Earth that is perfect and completely consistent in his/her behavior. We have to do whatever we feel we can to rid ourselves of this “All or Nothing Fallacy”.
A number of years ago, a student asked me the following question: “Rabbi, how can I say to God on this Yom Kippur that I regret not keeping Shabbat and that in the future I will observe it? I drive every Shabbat to be with my family and do not plan to stop this.” He, too, was trapped in the “All or Nothing Fallacy”. I explained to him that there are many aspects of Shabbat and that, perhaps, he felt he could manage not cooking on Shabbat or not putting on lights in his home on Shabbat. He should not tell God that he will keep every aspect of Shabbat because that would be lying to God. However, he could truthfully tell God that he had decided to accept upon himself a small aspect of Shabbat and return to God in that way.
Now that Rosh Hashanah is approaching, let us find one small aspect to improve on for the coming year. It may be giving charity on a more regular basis, it may be attending services more often, it may be learning Torah five minutes a day, it may be visiting the sick, it may be calling a family member more regularly, it may be keeping an aspect of Shabbat, and it may be something completely different. Let’s dispel the “All or Nothing Fallacy” and replace it with the “Everything Counts Reality”.