Making The Most Of It

In everyday experience, as explained by the simplest physics, heat is really wasted energy, lost in resistance or friction.  What we  perceive as great, even heroic, effort is often just wasted effort.

Despite certain appearances, in reality the rules and structures which organize our ritual and devotional practices is really quite flexible, allowing a wide range of styles and approaches which completely and properly fulfill our halachic obligations.  (Of course, and it should go without saying but, unfortunately, must be repeated, I’m not saying that “anything goes” and “if it feels good, do it”, but that there is fairly large set of acceptable halachic options in almost every case from which we can choose a valid action.) Unfortunately, we rarely avail ourselves of this reality and many maintain that we’re locked into the minhagim (customs) of our ancestors or our own first approaches to mitzvot. Some also construct, artificially I would argue, a hierarchy that equates the greater the difficulty the holier and more proper the observance.  (Yes, halachic literature does distinguish between לכתחילה, l’chat’chila, “starting from the beginning”, and בדיעבד, b’di’avad, “after the fact”, but that’s a different axis of analysis).  Maybe that isn’t so.

I’m not necessarily or categorically stating that “easier is better”, but after years of experiencing myself and witnessing others driving themselves and people close to them crazy by always insisting on the hardest, and often most unpleasant, way to fulfill our obligations, insisting on including every optional prayer, psalm and meditation in daily tefilla as if it were absolutely required, forcing a mad and mumbled rush to get through too many words in a reasonable amount of time, looking around a synagogue and seeing faces that, rather than filled with smiles of peace and happiness, are distorted by grimaces of torment, I start to think that maybe, all too often, we make the choices, and are rabbinically encouraged in these choices, that waste and fritter away our energy and intentions.

Each of us change daily, just as our situations also change daily.  Rather than being indoctrinated to only look at the next more difficult method, we should (and those who study Gemara and Halacha in a deep way already, even if not always consciously, do) learn a wide-ranging repertoire of acceptable ways to fulfill each mitzva.  Perhaps to more fully engage with the true essence of each mitzva we need to select our performance appropriately to each time it comes up in our lives, independent of how we or our fathers did it yesterday.  We need to, as it were, learn different swings for a fastball than for a curve, and also how to distinguish between the pitches that are thrown to us.

It often feels to me that we deny God’s omniscience when we reject the freedom of choice He grants us and the confidence He has in us that we will, eventually, learn to utilize His wonderful gifts of Torah and Mitzvot as fully as we are capable.  We often praise an athlete or a musician or a speaker who achieves results in what appears to be an almost effortless manner.  That doesn’t mean that he isn’t working and working hard, but that he’s working effectively, with the minimum of heat, of wasted effort.  I honestly believe that God wants each of us to grow to our fullest potentials.

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2 Responses to Making The Most Of It

  1. Jacques Ruda says:

    I think you have it right. I think G-d wants us to be happy and fulfilled. Suffering is not a prerequisite to approaching G-d. Have a Good Shabbos.

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