Request for suggestions on how to respond and assist someone in this scenario:

During the break yesterday, I spoke with a tween-age girl who explained that she felt no purpose in davening in the shul to ask for forgiveness based on the prayers that are in the Siddur. She said as an example, "I am not Shomeret Shabbat, I don't eat kosher, and I know that I'm going to continue this way. (Why she wants to is a separate complex issue.) The same can be said for almost all the people coming in the shul today. These are 3-day-per year shul attenders. They're coming here all pretending to ask forgiveness from God for the sins that they committed, but they're insincere. They all know that as soon as Yizkor is over, they will drive back home on Yom Kippur, knowing that it's forbidden to do so. But, they choose to continue that way, anyway. So, what's the point?"

Granted, I tried to explain that maybe all God wants from you is to ask forgiveness for those sins that you really are sorry about and that you feel that you can change. But, that didn't seem to work, because she thinks it's a whole process and it involves "everything or nothing".

I'm sure that there are various halachic or maybe Jewish psychological books that can explain how to answer this point. Can anyone suggest any ideas?

  • 2
    Remind her that no one keeps all the commandments, for many of them most Jews in the world have to live in Israel and we need a Temple, Hashem is happy with our efforts wherever we are. Judaisim is very much the opposite of an all-or-nothing religion, and that's one of the main points of Sukkot. Other than that, what can you really say? Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 19:56
  • As I said earlier, we need to establish a person's moral level first. Ask her, what does a serial killer deserve - punishment or treatment? If she chooses punishment she can return to Judaism, but otherwise, she needs special treatment - showing how things might work between us and Hashem on higher levels of בנים and ב"ז.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 20:04
  • כל האומר הקב"ה וותרן הוא יוותר חייו (ב"ק נ א) whoever says that G-d forfeits on sins forfeits his life
    – Mordechai
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 20:06
  • 1
    Sometimes people learn certain things at certain times. The person you described might just need a bit more time. I don't know the exact circumstances of the situation but I'd probably just let go of it and wait it out. It is never too late. She might find her way a bit later.
    – user16556
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 20:15
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    @Jonathan I appreciate the suggestion. Her problem is psychological, and I don't care to specify this aspect, here. But, I think Ramba"m is not going to address her problem. Have to begin with something more basic, perhaps. If you can specify what areas in Ramba"m would be relevant to this discussion, I think that may be more useful.
    – DanF
    Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 0:15

1 Answer 1


This is a difficult question, because there is no right answer, and what will touch one person will not resonate with another. Therefore a few possible avenues to explore

  1. God is looking for sincere Jews who want to improve. Being on a path to be a better person is more important that where one stands on that path. As the Kotzker Rebbe once answered when asked if it is better to be on top or in the bottom of a ladder: "it depends which direction you go". As such, asking for forgiveness of sins one has committed and wants to change is already a massive step forward. And even a teen should have some of these (maybe show her the commentaries on the vidduy and how many sins are alluded to in each sentence).

  2. As Rav Yisroel Salanter writes in the sixth letter of Ohr Israel, one gets the biggest punishment for the easiest things. Someone struggling with two issues, a big one and a small one, will get the largest spiritual punishment for the issues which would be easiest to fix, because he is most guilty for not fixing theses. As such, explain that she could pick one or two easy things to improve and resolve to work on these by acknowledging her past failures, asking for forgiveness and resolving to do better

  3. Shabbat and kashrut are big big things and one should not minimize it. But there is bein adam lamakom and bein adam la'havero. If she feels not ready to move on the first category, there is plenty to do on the second. Being less envious, more friendly, more generous, etc. are all worthy goals

Wishing you much success in your outreach efforts.

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    Chazak V'ematz on these answers. The person has multiple issues, and while I am generally skeptical of most rabbis' expertise to combine personal psychology with halacha, fortunately, my shul rav knows her well, and he may be able to make some breakthrough in some areas. I have advised her on #3, as I have dealt myself with some similar issues when I was about her age. I don't have all the answers, but getting some ideas from this type of forum, I think, will be useful. Vehayita Ach Same'ach.
    – DanF
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 14:04
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    "one gets the biggest reward and punishment for the easiest things" - my understanding of his letter (maybe I'm wrong) is that one gets the biggest punishment for transgressing the easiest things, but reward is לפום צערא אגרא. Also, look at the very end of his letter, where he explicitly encourages people to work on fixing the easy things on Yom Hakkippurim - I think that is really the heart of @DanF's issue with regard to "she thinks it's a whole process and it involves 'everything or nothing'"
    – b a
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 14:19
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    @ba I re-read the letter over Shabbat are you are correct, I mis-remembered and edited to correct. Thanks for the correction!
    – mbloch
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 18:02

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