What Gives Me the Right?

I offer a lot of opinions on this blog (I think “opinions” and “blog” are almost synonymous). And a lot of the time, I stress out about it. Not just about whether I have my facts straight, or that what I’m saying deserves to be said.

I stress about how anyone could believe I have a right to spout off on Torah, Talmud, Judaism, etc?

A friend of mine has refused to attend our weekly dinner-and-Torah study for exactly that reason. They didn’t care to hear or express opinions on Torah – not because they felt those opinions were incorrect or un-important, but exactly the opposite. In their words,

“I have no right express an opinion about pythagorean theorum. You don’t either.  If you’re name is Stephen Hawking I’m interested in what you think, but otherwise shut up. Torah is the same. I want to know what Rashi thought, what Abrabanel thought. I want someone much smarter than me to take their words and pull them together into a coherent set of ideas that drives to a point. But I have no interest in whether someone at the dinner table ‘likes’ or ‘agrees with’ what the Torah is saying.”

While I can appreciate and respect that opinion, I can’t live by it. The learning my friend is talking – learning what the great Rabbis had to say – about is one important aspect of Torah, but another is the act of grappling with the ideas, of finding out who I am by hearing myself talk about the things Torah is saying.

Yeah, you read that right. Some people think before they speak. I think while I speak. Want to know what I believe? Ask me and wait for me to stop talking about it, and then ask me again. It’s just the way I’m wired.

I don’t confuse being able to ask a question with having all (or any) of the answers. As I’ve said here before, if you have a real question – a challenging issue which affects the way you will behave, then CYLR (Consult Your Local Rabbi) applies. But without starting the process of thinking about what you think, you’ll never even get that far.

That still doesn’t address my original point, though – what gives me the right to express those ideas here, in public? Why do I think that people should read/listen to me instead of using the time to read Heschel or Hertz or Hillel? Isn’t it arrogant of me to think that anyone (besides me, and maybe my dog) wants to hear what I have to say?

Recently Seth Godin addressed this idea in a piece titled (appropriately enough) Arrogant

This is a fear and a paradox of doing work that’s important.

A fear because so many of us are raised to avoid appearing arrogant. Being called arrogant is a terrible slur, it means that you’re not only a failure, but a poser as well.
It’s a paradox, though, because the confidence and attitude that goes with bringing a new idea into the world (“hey, listen to this,”) is a hair’s breadth away, or at least sometimes it feels that way, from being arrogant.

And so we keep our head down. Better, they say, to be invisible and non-contributing than risk being arrogant.

That feels like a selfish, cowardly cop out to me. Better, I think, to make a difference and run the risk of failing sometimes, of being made fun of, and yes, appearing arrogant. It’s far better than the alternative.

In 3 short paragraphs (I believe Seth doesn’t have a long-winded bone in his body. I am, to say the least, insanely jealous.) he both named my biggest fear (being exposed as the fraud I sometimes feel I am) and offered me a way past it.

I believe that what I am doing here on EdibleTorah is important. I believe the ideas I present here have helped people in their own journeys.

Reading Seth’s article also made me reflect on the reality. Nobody  – not a single person – has written to me privately or in the comments of a post to tell me that I was a fraudulent hack. So it’s time to let that one go.

Along with the regular weekly food invitation (which is still the core focus of this site), I’m going to keep putting my ideas out there. They might amount to nothing. But then again, they might not.