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Torah Parsha Ki Tavo/Nitzavim-Veyeilech

"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 that 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 they do 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 their behavior. We have to do whatever we feel we can and rid ourselves of this 'All or Nothing Fallacy.'

A number of years ago, a student asked me the following '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.'

Tue, January 28 2020 2 Shevat 5780