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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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Home » Judaism

Visiting Residents: the Daily Plea of Elul

Student blowing a shofar

Young students blow a shofar in the classroom of the "Talmud Torah Ohalei Menachem" school in Beitar Illit. August 19, 2012.
Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90

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.

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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