As anyone who’s read very many of these article knows, I strongly advocate developing evolved, both time-and-place-appropriate practices in our faith. While I don’t know what these emerging changes will look like, I do know what they shouldn’t look like. We must never enslave our spiritual work to narcissism, to ego-flattery, to comfort/therapy, nor to making Torah practice acceptable to the outside world (there is nothing within normative Torah practice that advocates violence or dishonesty, so there is nothing to excise, but many of our mitzvot do transcend the rational, which has become a false god within the faith of secularism).
The oft-stated purpose of our Avoda, holy service, is to partner with The Creator in bringing the world to its ultimate perfection. Since we can’t know in advance what that will look like, and even if we could, the project’s complexity greatly exceeds human intellect. Thus, we rely on God and the Torah, even though the link between mitzva practice and desired outcome is rarely, if ever, comprehensible. Rather, out of our love, and the implicit trust that love implies, we hand over our individual autonomies to God.
Ultimately, nothing is scarier in human life than losing control. Losing it to other people, especially in a political/military sense is terrifying and every people, every nation strives to protect its security and autonomy. As Jews, that struggle has historically been highly ineffective–this is an area in which we are, indeed, the world authority.
On a personal level, little is a terrifying as an intense loving relationship. Much as we long for it, faced with completely opening ourselves to another, dropping all of our defenses and privacy, few are willing to go all the way. To fully trust our lives and tender needs to the hands of another is conceivable only when we assume responsibility for the welfare of that other person, providing them the reciprocal safety to fully give themselves as well. Even many successful and long-term marriages don’t go that far. We are, indeed, terrified of love.
Likewise, when asked to fully trust The Creator, saving nothing in reserve, holding no “hole-card” up our sleeve, we tremble. This is the Yirah, fear, that on its own is debilitating but, combined with the Ahava, love, allows us to fully travel the path to our, and His, goal.
This approach discredits basing “new halacha” on its inner psychological effects, whether it calms us, makes us feel good, “spiritual” or “connected”. Of course, we might feel all these things, but often we won’t, or at least they will be long delayed, perhaps beyond our individual lifespan. We also gain nothing, only lose, watering down our millennia-old practice to bring it into conformity with surrounding society. This is the lesson we preach but forget, year after year, around the upcoming festival of Chanuka when we had to defeat exactly that assimilation with Greek culture. “If only we weren’t so different, so separatist, if only we were “universal”, the world will love us,” is a false hope that has brought only death and destruction upon us over the generations.
Much like choosing a single mate out of the pool of all potential lovers begins with the overcoming the calculation of “could I maybe do better?”, as Jews we also have to overcome the gambler’s fear of staking all on a single roll of the dice.
Although our tradition, our prophets and sages, assure us that we ultimately will win, taking that step is truly Yirat HaShem, absolute fear and terror, not awe or awareness or any other euphemism we might prefer to make it less scary.
It’s time to get real and take the journey armed only with the ultimate sense of Ahava, love of God.