Friday, February 08, 2013

Feel alive!

Here's a piece of trivia for you: This Shabbos we will read the 18th portion of the Torah.
Ok, I get it, you didn't let out a whoop of joy for having learned that. What's intriguing about Mishpatim being portion "Chai" is that it doesn't strike one as a  lively parsha. For the last few weeks we've read of frogs and pestilence, splitting the sea and the explosive Sinai experience. This week's portion reads like a droning legal journal.
Some get a kick out of wading through laws of torts, but most people would quicker call last week's 4D sound-and-light presentation at Sinai "lively". 
Since everything in Judaism is meant to happen by Divine design, you have to wonder why parsha number "Chai" seems to be anything but. 
Jews are thinkers. Yes, we're committed to our Judaism. We dutifully avoiding bacon, celebrating Friday night and suffering through Yom Kippur. Yet, we don't just accept things. We question, we challenge, we debate, we re-hash. A cursory glimpse of your local Yeshivah's debating hall (a.k.a. study hall) will convince you that Jewish thinking precludes blind acceptance. To us, religion is only alive when you understand it and then revisit it and understand it more deeply.
G-d's impressive appearance at Sinai inspired the socks off every person standing there. But, that honeymoon was soon quashed by hangover and the people lost the plot and made the Golden Calf. Whenever someone or something else is the root of your inspiration, you are a hairsbreadth away from deflating into apathy. Inspiration is always exciting, but it's also just a bit over our heads. As long as we chase the next exciting thing, nothing will remain exciting for long. 
"Chai", the secret of keeping your Judaism alive, is making sure that you "get it". Once you understand something, you appreciate it. Once you appreciate it, you connect with it and it becomes a sustainable part of your life.
We all want our Judaism to feel dynamic. Nobody likes to drag themselves through repetitive rituals and painful prayer services. The worst thing for our spiritual growth is for us to feel it a meaningless burden; a load of "have to do" items. The only way to change that is to understand and appreciate; to make it meaningful. And the only way to do that is to learn.
Week 18 of the Torah portions is the first Torah portion focused on presenting information that we can all "get". It's message: Learn and learn and learn. Inspiration will entice and disappoint us, but study and appreciation will motivate and propel us. 
There is no shortcut to meaningful Judaism- you have to study and read and attend shiurim- constantly.  

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