One lament that many rabbis share is the feeling that no matter how well a service and drash (teaching) may go, as soon as the participants leave the synagogue, they step back into the real world, where rules of the market apply, very different from the ethical teachings shared in the spiritual sanctuary. Given busy schedules, it is hard for people to find connections between one activity and the next. Each seems to have a life of its own, and conditions dictate how you are to behave, beyond any teaching that may have touched the heart in the synagogue.
Even more distressing are stories people have of seeing seemingly authentic Jews, people who are very observant of the mitzvot of Judaism in terms of prayer and study and ritual, who behave harshly in business and in how they treat people, even family. Many of us have such horror stories of so called “religious” Jews who take advantage of people and situations in ways that contradict what the Torah teaches. Over the years, I have been amazed how Judaism has survived Jews who give it a bad name.
Paradoxically, Judaism’s intent is to help people defragment, to see how what happens in one setting has a bearing on another…that life is not meant to be a series of events, one unrelated to the next. It begins with an understanding that Torah and Mitzvah are not two distinct fragments; rather they are partners, in close relationship. One without the other is incomplete. The purpose of Torah is not to become an exercise in intellectual and imaginative stimulation, but rather, a source and guidance system for what to do in the myriad moments and situations that fill our days. Nor is the purpose of Mitzvah to just do good deeds; rather, it is a way of bringing Torah to life and consciousness to everything that we learn, that it has practical application in our behavior.
I remember from my youth that one of my father’s favorite activities was to go next door for stimulating conversation with the neighbor, a doctor, who was a brilliant man. The intellectual exchange was most rewarding to my father, the rabbi, yet, what makes it all so memorable was his abiding frustration that the neighbor was more interested in “winning” the debate, than he was in seeking the inherent truth in the matters they were exploring. It was intellect for its own sake, rather than using that gift to make more sense of life’s complexities and truths.
You can look at life as a series of events to negotiate, each standing on its own. To do so, however, results in days and weeks passing by with little sense of connectivity to life’s bigger picture.
Judaism links Torah and Mitzvah, so that we understand that whatever we learn or discover, through intellectual prowess, is with the intent of helping us become increasingly aware of choices and decisions to make, that can turn ordinary fragments in the day into pieces of a larger whole, that is memorable and precious. Linking Torah and Mitzvah, Judaism puts us in the business of creating holiness, not just a phenomenon associated with ritual in the synagogue, but more significantly, making sense of everything you have decided you have to do today, and each day.
Just as computers have to be defragmented, so that they can work quicker and more efficiently, so do human beings need to defragment, that they may see what they are doing that is of value, vs. what is happening out of rote, or in their reacting to a situation, without appreciating its impact on their energy, or, more importantly, their conscience.
Judaism, linking Torah and Mitzvah, not only moves you in the direction of linking your knowledge and your action; it also models relationship between two fragments in the Jewish system, “learning” and “doing”. It is to suggest that much of what you do in the day could have greater impact and meaning, were you to take time to see the value of the detail in the bigger picture, even if it means eliminating that particular piece of the schedule in the future.
I look forward to exploring life’s relationships, as celebrated in Judaism, when we gather on Sunday evening June 8 at 7:30 PM to welcome the Holiday of Shavuot, God’s Giving Israel the Torah. At that time we will blend the Mitzvah of ritual and prayer, with reflectiveness on the Torah, and its teachings, as we explore how Judaism can help us defragment our own ”computers”, i.e. our hearts and minds. The goal is to move from fragmentation to wholeness, from the despair of so many things going on that disrupt life, to the joy and hope of putting everything together in pursuit of the Jewish expression of such accomplishment: Shalom.