Our two-year-old went upstairs for her nap right after lunch. About half an hour later my wife took the baby up stairs, put him down and then went to go lie down herself.
I stayed downstairs to play trucks with my favorite fully-potty-trained-when-awake three-year-old. After a little while, I went to lie down on the couch. It wasn’t long before I fell asleep.
Two hours later I woke up to find my son sleeping right next to me on the other couch. He was lying on his stomach with his tush up in the air, as he often does, but something didn’t look right. There was a belt buckle in the back of his pants.
After a moment of confusion, I figured out what was going on. I was so incredibly proud of him. He had used the bathroom by himself while I was napping and got himself dressed again, without waking me up, and then proceeded to take a nap.
When he woke up, I told him how proud I was of him, and what a big boy he was becoming. He was proud of his success and was confident that he could do even better. He told me that he wouldn’t need me to wake him up in the night anymore to use the bathroom. Now, over a week later, he has been true to his word.
That afternoon he went to play at a friends house, had friends come over to play, went outside to play with kids from the neighborhood, and ate dinner, all with his pants still on backwards.
If my son had wanted to know how to put his pants on, he could have just asked. He chose to figure it out himself. Eventually, he’ll get it.
When we have questions, who can we turn to? God has left us a book, and the halachic system, and hopefully enough wisdom, with which to interpret it. But, sometimes, I can’t help but wonder about the way we practice Judaism in modern times. When learning Talmud, or any other ancient Jewish text, seeing the way Jewish laws, customs, philosophies, and rulings have changed and evolved over time, one almost has to ask: do we have it right?
From major issues of free will, to minor issues of whether or not I’ve tied my tzitzit properly. Has our focused shifted to much towards scholarship? towards “feel-good spirituality”? Are we really supposed to be taking an active roll in history? Are we even asking the right questions?
These aren’t questions that are easily answered. When my son put his pants back on, he was doing what he thought was right; what he thought I wanted him to do. He was doing his best to make me and himself proud, with what information he had. For the most part, he got it right. The mistake he made didn’t anger me. It was endearing. Every time I saw his “mistake” throughout the day, I was reminded of how hard he tries, and I smiled.
We have an obligation to continue to search for truth, and to act accordingly, given the information we have. That is the purpose of the system of halakha that we have been given. If occasionally, we fail to use this system properly, we may end up wearing our pants backwards.
Let’s hope that if our Father is looking down at us, shaking His head, it’s with a smile.