The Art of Being Normal

Question

Hi, I’m beginning to observe certain Jewish practices, but want to remain “normal” — if you know what I mean. Not too strict but still doing the right thing. Any guidance for me? Thanks!

, 2 months

Answers

  1. A few years ago a student came to study for a month in a Yeshiva where I was teaching. He was completely non-observant, but felt a connection to his Jewish roots and wanted to have a “yeshiva experience.”

    Did I mention that he was in his final year of law school and was certain he wanted to become a lawyer?

    During that month he made many friends, had wonderful experiences and I also had an opportunity to become close with him. (He visited our home a number of times and we even played a little basketball together.)

    I would have loved for him to stay longer, but he made it clear that he was determined to finish law school and practice law. Before leaving, however, he asked me, “Rabbi, I’m not planning to become fully religious, but do you have any special parting words of wisdom for me to live by back in LA?”

    Without thinking, I said, “Be normal and do mitzvahs.” He smiled and said that he really liked the sound of it but didn’t really plan on doing too many mitzvahs. Then he looked me in the eyes, saying, “Hmm. Be normal and do mitzvahs. You get me, Rabbi!”

    I didn’t really expect to hear from him again, but a year later he sent me an email saying that he was engaged to a wonderful young lady who kept Shabbat. He wrote that he thought I’d be both surprised and happy to hear this news, and that my words to “Be normal and do mitzvahs” really made a difference in his life.

    Rav Eliyahu Lopian is quoted as saying, “Every person looks at himself as though he is on a tightrope; half the world is on the ground to his right and the other half on the ground to his left.” He continues, “Why a tightrope? Because there is only room for one.” Rav Lopian was describing a common human condition. People consider anyone “more religious” than themselves to be a fanatic, and anyone “less religious” than themselves a heretic. Every individual believes that only he walks the tightrope of normalcy, while everyone else has fallen to one side or the other.

    I hope you can see from the story of the lawyer that anyone can personalize the message of “being normal” in a successful way. It just takes being honest with oneself, true to oneself, and perhaps a little luck.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team