Billy Graham probably shouldn’t figure in what a rabbi writes about the Torah but I quote his name today in order to disagree with him. Like other evangelists, his method was apparently to sweep people off their feet and tell them, “You have to decide – now! Come on, stand up and come forward – now!”
Every now and then we hear the same approach from people who want to sell you something (in my case a piece of property on the Australian Gold Coast) and offer such a good deal that they insist that you have to snap it up now. The Jewish approach is quite different. As articulated in this week’s haftarah (Isa. 27:6-28:1 and 29:22-23), it stands for gradualism – tzav latzav kav lakav z’er sham z’er sham, “precept by precept, line by line, here a little, there a little”.
Judaism believes that anything good, especially religion, must be acquired in that way, step by step. You have to test a little, learn a little, and develop a taste for it. The rabbis said a similar thing about the messianic redemption: “Like the dawn, Israel’s redemption will come gradually” (Jerusalem Talmud, Ber. 1:1; Shir HaShirim Rabba chapter 6).
Being forced to decide about anything life-changing, here and now with no time to think and be certain, reminds one of the silly old saying, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure…”