I have often wondered about my religious observance. I commit various sins, and I often wonder whether it is hypocritical to follow other mitzvot if I am not fulfilling the first or more basic mitzvot. This comes to mind most strongly when we are near Rosh Hashana, at which point I think about all the lies, as it were, that I am going to tell in shul. On Rosh Hashana I read a prepared text with a list of sins for which I am ostensibly sorry. But suppose I am not sorry for these sins, that indeed I feel no guilt? What then? Is it better to be honest and not to mention the sins at all? Is it better to say them anyway and act the hypocrite?
For example, if one does not make birchat haTorah, for whatever reason, should they still learn if they have the opportunity? Or would that be hypocritical? And in religion specifically, does hypocrisy matter?
I have thought it over for a long time, because I do not like the idea of being a hypocrite. I have come to the conclusion that hypocrisy does not matter in religion, and that each day must be treated as a new day. Therefore, though it may seem hypocritical that I daven on one day, for instance, and not the other, it doesn't matter, because each day is a new day to be taken on its own terms. If I have not fulfilled one mitzvah, even knowingly and deliberately, that doesn't negate the value of fulfilling another one. This is purely a philosophical point of view, of course; halakhically things probably have little to no value if the first precept is not fulfilled.
I don't think religion would work if we had to be consistent or honest all the time. I wouldn't keep anything if that were the case, because each day I would be so hard on myself for the things I couldn't or wouldn't keep and then I would start wondering, what is the point? If I don't do something as basic as daven in the morning, who am I kidding if I do a different mitzvah, mitzvah x? That's how I would think, at least. So I have to view everything as separate and not affecting each other and I have to think it's okay to be hypocritical when it comes to religion, not to daven but nevertheless to learn, or to make a blessing over a food but not to say al hamichya, for instance.
I think that's the only one religion can really function. Do you see an alternative? Obviously the ideal is for everyone to keep everything, but otherwise what seems to be hypocritical must be tolerated. So instead of making fun of the woman who covers her legs but gossips openly, or who wears a shaitel but puts on makeup on Shabbat, we should treat them all equally and kindly, because aren't I the same? And isn't that how I would like to be treated? How would I like someone else to make fun of my hypocrisies?
Since I'm the person who would have once been completely dismissive of people whose priorities, to me, seemed out of whack, this is a bit of a revelation for me. Somehow I never had the compassion to see- or the desire to look- and realize that I suffer from the same flaw, only perhaps I am less obvious in the stockings-gossiping correlation. I still do think that some things are more important than others, for example someone who keeps all the laws but who engages in a societal ill, for example, a murderer, doesn't necessarily deserve one's sympathy. One can make this argument for anyone who engages in some kind of meditated crime, including white-collar crimes like not paying one's taxes, which would be a form of stealing. But leaving such crimes aside, there are many of us who can't do everything, and so it doesn't pay for me to look down on anyone, since they could look down on me, too, for the exact same thing. If that makes any sense.
I guess I think that we are all hypocrites, in some sense, unless you happen to be very good, in which case I truly admire you and would probably like to learn from you. It's just that when it comes to religion, hypocrisy isn't a bad thing but a way that demonstrates that you are still growing. "Hypocrisy" is probably the wrong word; it's such a value-laden term, but I can't find the word that means what I am trying to say. I want to say that we're not perfect and shouldn't expect one another to be perfect and that despite seeming dishonest, if one admits for this premise, our seeming hypocrisy is actually honesty. This is assuming one is really trying to do the right thing, of course, and I think that most of us are.