But, there are many other types of improvements that we can make that are not so obvious. There are simple things that we can change in our lives that could make it far better without much effort. The main ingredient is common sense, and the rewards can be infinite (even though we are not doing this for reward, but they are there). Just remember that Hashem judges us for everything; everything simple, everything difficult, every words we say, everything we do. This greatly includes how we interact with others in this world and that leads us to the very subtle type of Teshuvah, very subtle improvements that are easy to correct, and well worth it for our well-being.
First let us learn a very interesting term used in the frum community. Frum means "devout" or "pious," in Yiddish. To be frum means to be committed to the observance of Jewish law, the commandments; often exceeding the bare requirements of Halachah, the collective body of Jewish laws. The term I wish to introduce is marit ayin (or maris ayin, Hebrew: מַרְאִית עַיִן, "appearance to the eye"), which is a concept in Halachah (Jewish law). It is considered to be an important concept, as it can lead to the prohibition of certain acts, depending on circumstances, that might otherwise be permitted.
There are so many situations that could lead to maris ayin. Jews are very often watched, I should probably say always watched. The world is obsessed with trying to catch Jews in a negative light. Why? Since Jews are “a light unto the nations,” and most people don’t really care for the message, the absolute truth that Hashem wants the Jews to convey, catching a Jew in a compromising situation is satisfying to many non-Jews (and secular Jews). It is in the mind of the Jew-hater as a justification for persecution and stereotyping. If you are following my train of thought, it is a justification in the mind of the heretic to not believe in Hashem or follow His ways.
By giving examples, we can see how this “catching a Jew making a mistake” leads to Jew-hatred. It also is incumbent upon every Jew who is being watched to do the right thing and be an inspiration instead of an excuse.
A Jewish family is traveling on a highway and wishes to stop off at rest stop to use the facilities. There are rest rooms about a block away from the parking area, but there are rest rooms much closer in a non-kosher restaurant. To save steps, the Jewish family uses the closer rest rooms but is caught going into and leaving a non-kosher restaurant. We know that there was nothing incorrect in what they did, but those observing only believe that they caught a Jewish family eating at a non-kosher restaurant. That is maris ayin. It is not what is really happening, but a situation where Jews falsely are perceived as violating the commandments and sinning against Hashem. What good gossip that is.
Let us talk about a completely different situation of Jews hurting other Jews, and possibly putting others into a dangerous situation. I have lived in places that had traffic circles instead of normal cross intersections. They very often are blocked off to let the pedestrians know that for safety purposes they must go around the circle and make all crossings at designated pedestrian walk ways. I very often saw people who wanted to save about 10 seconds in walking and cross illegally through the circle. If you were to ask the person why they are violating a law of safety, they would always tell you, I have no trouble cutting through the circle; I am totally aware of the traffic in the area. But why am I calling this maris ayin? Because the children who do not know how to negotiate the traffic are being shown by adults, it is OK to violate safety laws. It may not be the adults that get hit by a car, but it is often the children, who learned “it is OK to break the law and cut through a circle.” That, or J-walking or many other improper lessons that we teach children put them in danger, just so we can save some steps in walking. In a Jewish neighborhood, it is a violation of Torah to even think about violating a safety law that could hurt others.
One of the biggest killers in this world is the automobile. It is not just maris ayin to show others improper violations of safety laws, but also passing on to our children our bad habits when we teach them how to drive. It is definitely a horror to tell a teenager that it is OK to occasionally speed, or pass improperly, but it is maris ayin to do so on your own when those in the car and everyone looking at you from the street sees your improper way. If one does not drive defensively, one is putting himself of herself in mortal danger. But if one always drives improperly while children and others look on, it is maris ayin and extremely dangerous.
We are being watched and if a Jew does one wrong thing, he has done a Chillul Hashem, "a desecration of the Name." Every mistake a person makes in this world could be viewed as a mistake, or just improper training, but a Jew being seen making a mistake is pointed out as a stereotype: “those Jews they always….” I believe that I am pointing out the obvious. But, what all of us must be aware of is how, if we are conscious of these subtle mistakes, we are doing very important Teshuvah.
Let me mention one more area of subtle Teshuvah accomplished by avoiding maris ayin. We are not just being watched by the people around us, we are being watched 24/7 by Hashem and being judged on our performance. If we as an example like to talk during prayer service, yes that is maris ayin for those around us, but it is a definite violation of Hashem’s commandments. What makes it even worse is not just the violation happening at the time, but the teaching to others, such as children that it is OK to talk or do other improper behavior when we are communing with our Creator. Being a people watcher, I have noticed over decades that the children who talk during prayer services are almost always children of parents who talk. They learned their lessons well through maris ayin.
It is such an easy Teshuvah to correct, but it takes some common sense. Pretend that everything you do and say, you are being watched and heard (which you are). Now ask if what you do is according to Torah, or a human bad habit, and whether it might be very dangerous for children to see and learn. If we have Hashem’s approval, we are doing it correctly; if not, we need some subtle Teshuvah.