For most of us life is routine and mundane. From time to time scheduled vacations, holidays, or unforeseen events break the routine providing us with the necessary contrast to our daily lives. However, for the most part, we are engaged in tasks that are predictable and routine.
Routine is good. Routine allows us to set goals, make plans, develop strategies, and formulate realistic expectations. Routine provides security and comfort. Routine anchors relationships so that the participants can predict each other’s reactions and respond rather than react. Routine helps avoid crisis in all of life’s arenas and guarantees the standards we have all come to expect and depend upon.
However, routine can also prove to be the death of innovation, ingenuity, excitement, romance, progress, and personal development. Changes, of any kind, demand the courage and willingness to break the routine and seek out alternative methods. Routine approaches and strategies can hinder problem solving. It is often the fresh new approach that provides the best solution.
My Grandfather OBM was renown for his innovative thinking and logic. He was fond of saying that the only rule or strategy for problem solving that he endorsed was the rule that there is no such thing as a specific rule or strategy for problem solving. Any predefined approach or strategy was by definition an intellectual limitation in seeking out possible solutions to a problem or situation.
Routine is also a major problem in maintaining a feeling of spirituality. Many find the routine of Tefilah, Shabbos, and daily Mitzvos to be sterile, stifling, and emotionally unfulfilling. Even the saying of a Bracha before eating can be spiritually empty. I remember a conversation with my Rebbi, Rav Moshe Eiseman Shlita, where he bemoaned the standard practice of teaching little children to make blessings before they are old enough to intellectually appreciate the meaning and purpose of Brachos. He felt that it trained them to make Brachos routinely, without giving them the opportunity to appreciate Chazal’s (the Rabbis) intent in assigning specific blessings. As we all know, it is far more difficult to correct a mistake that has become ingrained in a child’s habits than it is to initially teach the child to do the mitzvah correctly.
In this week’s Parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu warned the Bnai Yisroel to be careful of routine in relation to G-d and life. In verses 26:16 to 19, Moshe used the word “Hayom – Today,” three times. “Today G-d is commanding you… Today you are choosing G-d… Today G-d is choosing you…” Rashi explains from the Medresh Tanchuma, that even though the commandments were given to the Jews over the forty years in the desert, Moshe’s intent was to emphasize, “Every day the Mitzvos should appear to you as new – having just been commanded!
Imagine what the performance of a mitzvah must have been like immediately following the giving of the Torah. Having just heard the voice of G-d commanding us to be vigilant in Shabbos I would like to believe that we would have made every attempt to ascertain the very best way to properly keep Shabbos. Shabbos would have been new, exciting, uplifting, confirming, and spiritually profound.
Many of us can remember putting on Tefillin (phylacteries) for the very first time. The care we had in opening the Tefillin bag, unwinding and straightening the leather straps, checking and rechecking the Tefillin Shel Rosh (of the head) in the mirror to make sure that they were in the right place. That was the way Moshe wanted us to perform routine Mitzvos every day!
How many of you can remember lighting Shabbos candles for the very first time? Can you recall your feelings? Was there a sense of history, hope, and spirituality? I hope so. However, how do you feel now? Is it as emotionally impacting and significant as it was the first few times? The Torah directs us to maintain the sense of wonderment, excitement, anticipation, and joy in our relationship with Hashem. “Hayom – Today,” every day the Mitzvos should appear to you as new.
On Tisha B’Av and on Yom Kippur, we read the story of the Ten Martyrs. Among them was Rabbi Chutzpas the Miturgaman (Interpreter). The Talmud relates that on the day he was killed by the Romans he was one day shy of his 130th birthday. He begged his executioners to allow him one more day of life so that he could recite the Shema one last evening and morning. The Romans did not grant him his wish and he was tortured to death. (By the way, it was the torturing and death of Rabbi Chutzpas that had been witnessed by Elisha ben Avuyah – otherwise known as Acher, that motivated him to become a heretic.)
Why would a man of almost 130 wish to say Shema “one more time?” Granted, each and every recitation is its own Mitzvah, but what could he have hoped to accomplish in one more day of life that he hadn’t already attained in almost 130 years of life?
The answer is the concept of “Hayom – Today.” Rabbi Chutzpis approached each day of his life as if he had just been commanded by G-d to do the Mitzvos. The difference was that with each and every new day he brought to the performance of the Mitzvos the knowledge and experience of each preceding day. This meant that every new performance of a mitzvah had a depth and dimension never before realized or expressed. Rabbi Chutzpis begged his executioners to be allowed to say the Shema one more day, with the same enthusiasm and excitement that a little child feels when learning the Aleph- Beis for the very first time. What passion! What a way to live each and every day!
One of the most famous verses in Tehilim is “G-d created in me a pure heart…” The concept of a pure heart is the lost innocence of childhood. Children have an unmitigated passion for life. They fight off going to sleep. They jump out of bed with exhausting enthusiasm. They can construct a world of fantasy using string and a cardboard box, and will do so, again and again, day after day. The passion they express upon seeing a loving parent or sibling for the first time that minute is the dream stuff of parents and grandparents. What passion! What joy! That is what Moshe Rabbeinu meant when he said, “Hayom – Today.”
Among the great challenges of life is to live each moment with routine and passion. Imagine what our intimate relationships would be like if every day we approached each other with the same passion as our first encounter; yet with the knowledge, comfort, and trust, of a proven relationship. That is the way G-d intended us to live our lives. That is the way He wanted us to perform each Mitzvah!
Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.