By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The Passion of Today!
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
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
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.