At kiddush, a friend was telling me about a neighbor whose legally parked car got seriously crunched in her absence. Not at all the fault of the neighbor, who had liability insurance, but no insurance for damage to her own car. The neighbor is very nice--my friend likes her. The neighbor has a lot of problems besides the destroyed car--debts, troubles with her kids by different fathers, neither of whom she was married to.
My friend said, "She once said to me, 'Why does all this stuff happen to me?' I wanted to say 'Because you don't do Torah and mitzvot,' but I decided not to."
I replied, "Yes, it sounds like it was a good idea not to say that." Pause. "Is she Jewish?"
"Well, I guess the Torah and mitzvot thing doesn't really apply to her anyway."
My first reaction to this was "this is the kind of stuff that makes me seriously consider switching to the Reform shul that's walking distance from home." I mean, jeepers, come on. I mean.
My second reaction to the conversation--or, if you prefer, my first reaction to my first reaction--was that I'm being disingenuous here. Ovadiah Yosef traced Hurricane Katrina to the lack of Torah and mitzvot among the shvartzes, but this isn't quite the same, for the most part. There was nothing the victims of Katrina could have done to prevent the hurricane. In the case of my friend's neighbor, this is true only of the destruction of the car. The children out of wedlock and the debts are probably at least in part the fault of the neighbor--there may have been some bad decisions along the way. Talking about lack of Torah and mitzvot could just be another way of talking about responsibility and good decisions. As I discussed in my very first post on this blog, we Orthos sometimes talk about non-Jewish things in Jewish terms--Presbyterian shuls, Muslim yeshivas, and so on. The difference is that my friend wasn't being self-consciously and annoyingly cutesoid.
My third reaction to the conversation--or my second reaction to my first reaction, or my first reaction to my second reaction--is that this is a person who probably would have said "lehavdil!" if using "Torah and mitzvot" to mean all-purpose commonsense good decision making. Which means my friend probably did mean that the problems were caused by a lack of mamash Torah and mitzvot. In which case the Reform shul is starting to look good again.
My final reaction (at least for the moment) is that I should give the benefit of the doubt--go into dan lekhaf zekhut mode, as we say--to my friend rather than to my disingenuous self. Doubt benefits are fine, but it sometimes turns a little dishonest when you apply it too generously to yourself.