Judaism teaches that we should not make vows, because they might lead us to do something that we would later regret. More specifically, they might lead us to take an action in conflict with Jewish values. For example, if you vow to never speak to someone until they apologize, you have set a very high bar that you may later regret. People try to keep their vows, and in the example above the vow would serve to preserve the pain and make reconciliation harder.
I made a vow earlier this year never to write about Donald Trump after the racist comments he made about Mexicans. Alas, that is a vow I cannot keep. If I were to keep it, it would deprive me of an opportunity to learn from the spat between the Pope and the Donald. As I suspect you already know, Pope Francis suggested that Trump is not a Christian because he talks about building walls and not building bridges. The Donald shot back that it is disgraceful for the Pope to question another person’s faith. Wow, I am not a Trump fan, but I think I have to give him the nod on this one, with some caveats below.
The whole interchange reminds me of the fights between the different branches of Judaism. Some people in the ultra-Orthodox community say that Reform Jews are not Jewish. I once explained to an Israeli friend about Reform Judaism, and he said jokingly “why don’t you just put a cross on the wall.” I was not amused. Just last year, I realized that I was walking around with a secret shame that I wasn’t Jewish enough. I think many are raised to think that Orthodox Judaism is the real Judaism, and that people who don’t follow that lifestyle can’t cut it. It is a character flaw that we don’t keep Kosher or practice the rituals. I don’t like people questioning my Judaism. I intentionally said “Judaism” instead of “faith” because for many people, being Jewish is about much more than faith. Jewish identity is complex, and who am I to say that a love of pastrami is any less Jewish than going to services?
It is in that sense that I side with the Donald. One should not question another person’s faith. I noticed that in the rejoinder, Trump said that the Pope’s behavior was disgraceful. He did not say that the Pope is a disgrace, as some media have reported. Had the Pope said something like “Building walls instead of building bridges is not consistent with Christian values,” he would have focused on behavior and not the person.
Mussar teaches that we are to focus on our own behavior. Speaking out against injustice is something important for us to do. But I think Mussar teaches us to speak out against unjust behavior, without generalizing to the person. After all, we all carry a Divine spark that is occluded by our baggage. We should Honor the spark, even if we can’t Honor the behavior.