Question & Answer With Yirmeyahu - More Religious Than You
A Simple Jew asks:
Psychologically, to what do you attribute the phenomenon of a religious person casting aspersions on the practices of another religious person who is more religiously observant than himself?
I will take it for granted that we are talking about practices which reflect a sincere avodas Hashem.
The Shefa Chaim on parshas Vayeira (5742) has a discussion which I believe, insofar as I understand it correctly, has an indirect relevance to your question. The Klausenberger Rebbe zt'l explains the importance of staying away from innovation. He says that the wicked take what is established among the B'nei Yisroel as permitted and find new ways to forbid it just as they find ways to "permit" things which the B'nei Yisroel are accustomed to forbid.
"Each person is to accept upon himself not to walk in "new" ways, not to listen or to accept sort of innovation, whether strict or lenient, because any matter of innovation is impure and invalid, and originates in the side of tumah. Each person should grasp only the customs and paths of his fathers without any sort of addition, and to accept upon himself what his fathers and elder did, that he should do likewise." (page 46).
The first "Jewish" magazine I ever read had an article in which the author, who identified as Orthodox, responded to criticism of his earlier article in which he proposed accepting an unequivocally counter-halachic position. In his defense he said perhaps he should have identified as a "1950's" Orthodox Jew, and proceeded to provide a laundry list of things which were considered acceptable to the Orthodox community in America when he was growing up that are now rejected or frowned upon. While some things could be rightly considered superficial, others where highly problematic halachicly. Shemiras HaMitzvos was once very difficult in the United States where all proper infrastructures for Jewish life were insufficiently present. Baruch Hashem we live in a time where we are much more able to keep mitzvos and often the economic ability to add a little hiddur. The fact remains though that the norms which were established in earlier times can and does have an impact on what many consider the norm today.
So while it is easy to take a cynical view of those who are cynical about the avodas Hashem of others, it may be worthwhile to recognize that, though misguided, such an attitude is rooted in the very appropriate aversion to change necessary for the safeguarding of Mesorah. Without a doubt there are many other factors, most of which are probably not useful to dwell on, but it is probably helpful to remember than much if this attitude reflects a discomfort over a “change” from what was accepted even if we can stand back and recognize that the point being referenced was itself a change which needed correcting.
I have been told that the Rebbe zt'l explained that in order to get the full context, the balance of his shiurim, one needs to listen to a whole years worth. The Rebbe generally wished to make the point at hand clear because it was often relevant to what was going on. If there was another side to the issue it would be illustrated when it was relevant. I do not, now, know of the Rebbe’s advice on what to do when one doesn’t have a clear derech which he has received from his parents and teachers. How does one avoid innovation in such circumstances. I suspect, however, that the proper path would be to attach your self to a tzadik. One should observe his behavior and understand it, not merely mimic it. Indeed the Rebbe is very critical of acting strictly on the basis of stories about tzadikim but rather, “a Jewish person must do only things that he knows the reason for doing so and which have a pure source.” (ibid 455). But when we find a guide whose actions consistently reflect “avodas Hashem” and whose practices and minhagim are firmly rooted in our Mesorah, I suspect you have yourself a derech.
So perhaps the best way to get such critical people to come around to a more positive view of punctuality in avodas Hashem is to be very careful ourselves. We need to be careful that we do things for the right reasons. We need to understand why our practice is such. And we need to be careful that we do not randomly and arbitrarily take on practices, but rather follow a coherent path. There are times when perhaps we need trailblazers, but generally one needs to stay on a path well tread.
Once, however, we have done a cheshbon hanefesh on our motives, understand why we are doing something and have a grasp on it's parameters to make certain we are not compromising other important values, then we need to ignore the prattle that comes our way. Recently a friend of my six year old son teased him about a minhag of ours. Knowing that he needed a little chizuk I read to him the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch's citation of Pirkei Avos 5:23, to "be bold like a leopard" in our avodas Hashem. When it comes to our avodas Hashem, it doesn't matter what people will say...or why they will say it. More often than not the "pshat" of their attitude will be obvious, but bearing in mind some of the "deeper" reasons may help prevent the yetzer hara from getting a foothold with feelings of anger, hatred, pride or so forth in reaction to such attitudes, which would undermine the gain we put so much effort into achieving.