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When Doing a Mitzvah is Hypocritical

When Doing a Mitzvah is Hypocritical


The month of Elul is upon us, a time for inner-reflection and positive resolutions for the upcoming year. Often times, this process is accompanied by an "ethical dilemma": is it hypocritical to resolve to do a particular mitzvah when the person remains an altogether "unspiritual individual"? Would it be proper for me to commit to pray every day if I am not yet prepared to give up non-kosher foods? This problem is especially accentuated when a person is temporarily inspired to do a particular mitzvah, but is just not ready to make a long term commitment. What value is there to making kiddush this Shabbat if I didn't do it last week and probably will be playing golf at this time next week? If mitzvot are about self-betterment and real commitment, is there any purpose in a one-night stand?

The answer to this question isn't clear-cut, and actually depends on intention of the person performing the mitzvah. Indeed, the person who views the mitzvot and a Torah lifestyle as a means of achieving a If mitzvot are about self-betterment and real commitment, is there any purpose in a one-night stand?spiritually wholesome existence, a divinely inspired disciplinary system which brings happiness and contentment to its adherents, has no reason to bother with a mitzvah which currently isn't his cup of tea and which won't be increasing his spiritual growth. He also won't entertain the notion of performing some mitzvot when he knows that others will be ignored. This person's sense of integrity will be affronted by a mitzvah which is seemingly pointless and duplicitous.

In truth, however, observing mitzvot is not merely a panacea which imparts a lifetime of spiritual bliss. Yes, it is true that a Torah led life offers all the above benefits—but they are fringe benefits. The meaning of the word "mitzvot" is "commandments," and that is precisely why we observe them, because we are servants of the A-lmighty and we follow His orders.

When approaching the mitzvot from G‑d's point of view instead of a self-centered approach, suddenly there's no such thing as a hypocritical mitzvah. A normally miserly person who decides to give a donation to the poor may feel hypocritical—but to the poor person that is irrelevant. All that matters to him is that he finally has bread to put in the mouths of his family. So perhaps the miser isn't perfect, but the act was! Every mitzvah which is done is beautiful in the eyes of G‑d – no matter what tomorrow will bring – and isn't that what it's all about?

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Lois Vaughn Summerville June 23, 2014

I really needed to read this. I struggle with a particular sin that I keep doing although I hate and don't want to do. I hate feeling temporarily separated from
G-d because I am ashamed. In my heart I really love G-d and want to serve him. When I was younger, I used to think I had to be perfect, do everything perfectly and felt I was being hypocritical when I wanted to do good. Therefore I wouldn't do good because I didn't want to be hypocritical! Years of experience (and teaching) have taught me that I may not do things perfectly but when I mess up to fall forward because I am falling forward for the team. Reply

Anonymous Blacksburg, VA September 12, 2010

Also... I heard/read somewhere the comment that each good deed leads to another and each bad deed leads to another. In other words, each correct choice makes it easier for you to make correct choices in the future. It changes you in a slight way, whether you want it to or not. Maybe this time you do good in a parsimonious fashion, and next time you will do it from guilt, but eventually it becomes a pattern and it becomes easy and then you can just relax, be yourself, and be sincere while fulfilling the mitzvot.

Thus, whenever you think of good, you should do it...not just for that one instance but for all the future instances. Reply

Grampa Moshe Mendel London, England via August 21, 2010

When doing a mitzvah is hypocritical You never know how doing one mitzvah will affect your soul. Maybe you will be inspired to do another mitzvah. How do we learn to walk - one step at a time. Similarly we grow in Judiasm one mitzvah at a time. Reply

Anonymous Crestview, FL August 18, 2010

Mitzvah I believe it was maimonides in the first book of knowledge who advocated rewarding children for doing mitzvas first with praise, candy, money ect... then after a while they will begin to do the mitzvah for the right reason. I suppose that logic could be applied to this scenario.

Who knows perhaps one will resolve to pray everyday then learn to love prayer and G-d and eventually like it more than golf :)... Reply

Suzanne Miles Phoenix, AZ/usa August 17, 2010

Mitzvah Thank you, Rabbi Silberberg!!! Reply

Kenny Allen Yorba Linda, ca/uca August 17, 2010

Nothing is more important than being right with G-D. and staying on that path. Reply

Anonymous n y, ny August 17, 2010

Mitzvot When you introduced the feelings of the poor person (which of course are importan) you undermined the point of your piece, which is you do it because you are commanded to do it. Reply

Anonymous Ft. Lauderdale, FL September 16, 2009

Naftali's article Well said and one of the best I have ever read. I hope many people will read it as it relays a strong message so beautifully. Shana Tovah! Reply

Tom September 2, 2007

Doing good once is still doing good I suspect it is the lower influence that tells someone, "don't be a hypocrite, if you wont commit to perfect behavior forever, it is hypocritical for you to do it once". That isn't the good influence speaking. Do the good thing anyway.

The example of the miser giving a donation to the poor says it best. One good deed is better than no good deeds. But one good deed often leads to another. Start with the one.

Disclaimer: Just one guy's opinion. Reply

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