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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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Visiting Residents: the Daily Plea of Elul

Student blowing a shofar

Young students blow a shofar in the classroom of a Talmud Torah.
Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90

“Resident”- a person who maintains residency in a given place.

“Visitor”- a person who pays a visit; caller, guest, tourist, etc.

School has begun anew on this side of the ocean. It’s hard to find adequate words to describe the joy of parents during the course of this week. Beyond having their children fill their days with study rather then play, having them use time rather than waste it, and being in a secure environment rather than everywhere and anywhere, there is an added benefit to having our children back at school- routine!

No longer will parents have to rack their brains in finding past times and activities to fill the days and weeks of this pro-longed vacation. Each morning, they will wake up at a given hour, eat their breakfast at a fixed time, and have a schedule of classes and objectives that they will meet…each day.

Routine is a blessing: it provides an on-going consistency to our lifestyle, and creates a sense of devotion, as it’s done each and every day. It’s no wonder that when the Sages debated as to the most important verse in the Torah (introduction to the “Ein-Yaakov”) the verse that surprisingly “won” the debate was the verse that commands the Kohen (on-call in the Temple) to offer (Bamidbar 28/4) “The one lamb…in the morning, and the other lamb… in the afternoon.” As surprising as it sounds that such a technical command should triumph “Hear Oh Israel the Lord is our G-d the Lord is one,” or ” you shall love your fellow as you love yourself,” it seems clear that consistency in performing the commands of G-d each day supersedes the sporadic, one-time thrillers of sorts. It is therefore not surprising that our religion has always favored action over (just) thought (Tractate Avot 1/17) with even the intellectual exercise of studying Torah being a means for us to fulfill the commandments (conclusion of the Talmudic debate, Tractate Kidushin 40b).

But while a consistent, steadfast routine is indeed a value, and while remaining a devoted “Shomer Torah Umitzvot,” consistently adhering to the dictates of Jewish law, is a daily, elevated, worthy, and obligatory aspiration, there is also an undesirable side-effect to it as well; it becomes boring:

I don’t know many who have great joy to wash their hands three times each morning (Code of Jewish Law, 4/2), brush their teeth twice each day, or pray the same exact prayers (with the small exception of Monday/Thursday, and the “Psalm of the day”) each morning, afternoon and evening every day.

I have failed to see the “Minyaner” frequenting the synagogue thrice daily, who indeed feels the words that open the Code of Jewish Law (1/1- “One should rise like a Lion to stand in the morning to do the will of the commander”) when he walks into the shul in the early AM. The fatigue of waking up so early, together with seeing the same Tefillin & Siddur, usually does not allow the “lion” in him to express himself.

I am still waiting to see the smile and joy that one should have when he has the privilege of stating a blessing before and after eating his breakfast/lunch and dinner.

The list can easily go on, and I’m sure you can fill it with many more examples from your daily routine. But let’s take the example most fresh in our mind as August comes to an end: driving around the neighborhood on the first day of school. I’m sure you see excitement, smiles and a sense of anticipation in the air (at least in the eyes and lips of Parents…!) But will we see that same scene during the fifth week of school?!

Our Sages, while clearly giving credit to the consistent routine (as shown above) also stated (Yerushalmi, Tractate Megilla 4/1) that when hearing the semi-weekly Torah reading, one is forbidden to lean on the Bima, as; “…just like it was given with fear and awe, so we must act with fear and awe.” Did any of us feel this “fear and awe” during this week’s laining?

Continuing on the same theme, while many naturally “shuckle” while learning Torah, how many feel the verse, describing the feeling of the Jews at the tip of Mount-Sinai, where (Shemot 20/15)…” the people saw and trembled,” the source for swaying to and fro during study (see Baal HaTurim ibid, Machzor-Vitri 508) Is the movement of the body during the daily Daf-Yomi a reflection of a “trembling” sensation when trying to decipher the holy word of G-d? Or more logically a Jewish habit?

What can we do? How can we (and must we) maintain a consistent routine on the one hand, and yet not have our entire value system, expressed in our performance of Mitzvot, turn to boring daily acts? Not only will it be hard to maintain a sense of pride in being Jewish without a profound sense of enthusiasm, but our Rabbis, throughout the generations, warned us against the performance of Mitzvot as “Mitzvat Anashim Melumada” – “Mitzvot of routine” (Yishayahu 29/13).

After all, the Mishna states explicitly (Tractate Berachot 28b) that “One who turns his prayers into a fixed task it is not a genuine supplication!” In other words, if one dutifully enters the threshold of the synagogue thrice daily, saying every requisite obligatory prayer each time…and yet does it just as a matter of routine, his words are far from being branded a true “supplication” before G-d!

So, how can we reinvigorate the excitement?

I believe it is almost impossible. There’s only one outlet that I can honestly think of to overcome the natural boredom that accompanies the consistent routine; a plea to G-d to perform the unnatural miracle, and allow us to be excited even when administering the daily.

Throughout this month, all the way till Simchat Torah, the custom has developed (Mishna Berura, OC, 581/2) to recite Psalm # 27, starting with the words “LeDavid” twice a day. Within this chapter, there is a verse well known for the many songs composed for it:

אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת יְקֹוָק אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית יְקֹוָק כָּל יְמֵי חַיַּי לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם יְקֹוָק וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ

“One (thing) I ask of the Lord, that I seek-that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of the Lord and to visit His sanctuary.

We say it, we even sing it, and so perhaps we miss it; how can we be asking to live in the House of G-d “all the days of my life,” and in the same verse/ breath, ask that we “visit” His Holy Abode? A resident is not a visitor, and a visitor, by definition, is the very opposite of a resident?

How can we ask for both at the very same time?

I believe that the composer of this known passage had our dilemma in mind: We are asking to routinely be a resident near G-d, and yet feel like a visitor! We are pleading that G-d do the impossible, and allow us to feel as excited as a tourist feels in a new place…even though we are there each day!

Indeed, there is a famous verse almost at the end of the fifth Book of Torah (Devarim 26/16) that states; ” On this day, you have selected the Lord to be your God, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and to obey Him.” Rashi, rather obviously, is bothered with the term “On this day,” as the Torah was commanded upon the Jews years before “this day,” as they are almost forty years removed from Mount Sinai when the above is uttered?! Thus, answers Rashi in the name of the Midrash-Tanchuma, (ad-loc); ” Every day, you shall regard the commandments as if they are brand new, as though you are just today being commanded regarding them!” In other words, while all the daily Mitzvot are done each day, one should look at them, even decades later, as if they were just given to you yesterday, and you are now beginning to use your brand new acquired item.

Hard? Absolutely. Perhaps impossible? Very likely so. Thus, each day, we are commanded (Tractate Berachot11b) to say the blessing of the Torah when awaking, and not only state that we will “be busy with Torah,” but add the words “Ve’ha’a’rev na…”/”May the words of Torah be sweet to our lips and that of our progeny.” While fulfilling the dictates of Torah will surely keep you busy, we must intertwine it with the plea that we feel the feeling of “sweetness,” the feeling that one feels when he/she takes the first bite of something very sweet and delicious.

And thus, twice each day, as the past year before winds down, and the new one can already be seen around the bend, we plea to G-d that we become a resident visitor- not separated from G-d due to sin etc’ (see Laws of Teshuva to the Rambam, 7/7), but rather walking hand in hand (so to speak), constantly, and yet feeling like a first-time visitor, entering a beautiful tourist attraction, for the first time.

We know, only too well, that being excited about a routine is almost impossible. And yet we also know that without the enthusiasm, it will be very difficult to maintain it, let alone pass it on to the next generation.

As the year is coming to an end, with endless days filled with doing the very same commandments, we besiege G-d on each remaining day, asking for one vital ingredient for the one yet to come: May we never get used to our routine.

May we be permanent residents, feeling like visitors.

About the Author: Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein is Director of training and placement at The Straus-Amiel Institute at Ohr Torah Stone.


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As the year is coming to an end, with endless days filled with doing the very same commandments, we besiege G-d on each remaining day, asking for one vital ingredient for the one yet to come: May we never get used to our routine.

I’d like to submit that anything Frequent in our life tends be Forgotten! Something we see every day does not rank high on our list of concerns, and therefore, we just naturally forget about it.

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