Posted on | December 17, 2005 | By Steve Brizel | 8 Comments
I would like to comment on the intellectual and spiritual dimensions of conformity and non-conformity.
I have always thought that Avraham Avinu was one of the greatest non-conformists. Avraham not only walked out on his parents way of life, he destroyed and renounced idol worship. There are numerous approaches in the Talmud and Midrash as to when he changed his life. I think that there are two major approaches which posit his age at either age 3 or in his 30s or 40s. I once heard R’ Aharon Lichtenstein summarize these differences as reflecting either an emotional or intellectual change, depending on the age. (The Ritva in his comments on the Haggadah discusses these views in detail). Other Midrashim and Rishonim ( possiby Rambam in Hilcos Yesodei HaTorah) indicate that Avraham Avinu basically tested and rejected all of the prevalent Avodah Zarah (AZ) and culture of his times. It may be fair to say that whatever impetus was that caused a BT to become frum, non-conformity was one of the greater causes. All of the Avos seemed to follow in this path in their own way.
Moshe Rabbeinu also was a non conformist who rebelled against the Egyptian brutality that he saw, despite being raised in the Egyptian royal court. I know that there are Midrashim that state that Moshe learned Torah, etc while he was in the royal court, but if you read he beginning of Shmos with Rashi, you see very little of Moshe’s personality and midos until he reacts to the actions of an Egyptian overseer. Moshe’s act of courage also was an act of not conforming to a cultural norm. Ultimately, Moshe’s greatest act of non-conformity was his defense of Klal Yisrael after the Maaseh HaEgel when he was given a choice by HaShem to walk away from a people that had committed the ultimate transgression of AZ. His choice of defending Klal Yisrael was an enormous act of courage and non-conformity.
R Akiva and Resh Lakish also strike me as classical models for any BT. Both renounced their prior backgrounds and cultures in very difficult times. The Talmud goes out of its way to describe their past and their achievements to say that every BT can in his or her own way reach huge spiritual heights. One has to wonder how their lives would be profiled today, as opposed to how the Talmud describes their beginnings.
When you study Jewish history, one has to be amazed at the survival of Klal Yisrael. Look at the epocs of religious and political persecution. Then look at how many brothers and sisters were attracted to the various “isms”, especially from the period of the Emancipation thru today. One can argue that being being either a FFB or BT in any manner today is a statement of rebellion against the contemporary culture of today. In addition, when you read about the lives of Gedolim, their ability to just shut out every possible distraction and to achieve mind-boggling greatness in Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim is a model that we can all aspire to within our own limitations. In other words, the key is not to be as big a Gadol as any Gadol, but rather to maximize our own potential and self worth. In today’s society, that is the ultimate act of non-conformity.