Are you inspired?
Translated and adapted by Rafaella Levine
We are always celebrating new beginnings: the new year, the beginning of each month, the dawn of each new day. Rising each morning is likened to a rebirth; it is a new opportunity to be whoever we want to be. Judaism is expressly about constant renewal.
So turn up the enthusiasm, and live it up!
When mitzvoth and rituals become habit and are no longer catalysts for perking your creativity and generating new ideas, it is time to step back and reevaluate. What the Jews have tenaciously held on to over the centuries is not a series of do’s and don’ts. It is a lifestyle of rejuvenation, a well-spring of originality and innovation.
By the time the Temple was destroyed, the Jews had been fully forewarned. Many years earlier, the Torah had made it clear that their future might not dawn as a rosy horizon; it depended heavily on their behavior. Innumerable prophets adopted this theme, in attempt after attempt to ward off disaster. But somehow none of this reached the hearts of the nation, and the destruction became a historical fact, with widespread ramifications to this day.
No one could say they weren’t warned. From the Torah, through the prophets, the warning was clear. “I will lay your cities to ruin and I will make your sanctuaries desolate; I will not savor your satisfying [sacrificial] aromas” (Leviticus 26, 31).
The Torah also explained how such deterioration could take place: “When you beget children and grandchildren and will have been long in the Land, you will grow corrupt … and you will do evil in the eyes of Hashem your G-d, to anger Him” (Deuteronomy 4:25).
Being “long in the Land” is posited as the cause of the corruption. The Torah uses the root word “old” to describe this process. “You will grow old in the Land,” as though to say, “the Land will grow old on you.” In other words, the Jews fell into the trap of rote, uninspired living.
The first mitzvah that the Jews received, the key to their redemption, was the new moon. “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months” (Exodus 12:2). The waxing and waning moonlight, constantly in motion, is what determines the dates of the holidays and the Hebrew calendar, as opposed to the earth’s constant, invariable orbit around the sun.
The Torah directs us along the path of newness, guiding us in our attempts to be freshly inspired daily: “These matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart” (Devarim 6:6).
The word “today” holds the challenge to embrace the mitzvoth with fresh excitement, as you would the just-uttered request of a loved one.
“This day you have become a people to Hashem, your G-d” (Deuteronomy 27:9). The Torah never includes details that are irrelevant for our lives. To us, this means, “See each day as though today you entered into a covenant with Him.”
It is a new relationship. Constantly.
Try it with a parent, spouse, or child. Pretend you just met them today; try to suddenly see the other person from a slightly different perspective. When you don’t take him or her, nor the relationship for granted, you can reach a depth you never before noticed.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov spoke emphatically about renewal. He implored those who care about their spirituality to view each day as a completely new entity, not tied or obligated to the day before. To view ourselves as bursting with possibility, able to forge ahead in any chosen direction. Please, he said, do not chain yourself down to your self-image of yesterday. Recreate yourself today.
We are never really stuck in a rut. Each moment is a new chance.
Torah places profound importance on freshness: a fresh outlook, a new idea. Although the Torah has been studied for millennia, everyone is entitled to their own insights; students are encouraged to keep a notebook of their chiddusim, their original ideas.
In Israel, the Jewish people settled down into routine. They had entered the Land bursting with enthusiasm and wonderment over the Almighty’s unending generosity, but now they each had their home and vineyard, and they were used to it.
When spiritual rejuvenation is not a priority, the slide is smoothI into the ditch of habit that quickly sheds our once-inspired actions of their light and energy. The mitzvoth become a series of outward motions, robbed of vitality.
Isaiah described the people during the era preceding the destruction as paying lip service to G-d. They kept kosher, lit candles at the right time, and attended services, but their hearts were far away, stripping the relationship of its emotional component by falling victim to the throes of habit.
When we deny ourselves the gift of possibility by turning our minds off, or by insisting we are stuck, we are at dissonance with the spiritually rejuvenating lifestyle of real Judaism. Falling into rote closes doors in our spirit and we gradually settle into mediocrity. But we can be so much more!
The ninth of Av, the Hebrew month corresponding to August, is the day commemorating the Temple’s destruction. We mourn Jerusalem of old, and we mourn our higher selves – the layers upon layers of potential that we are not tapping into, because we have dimmed our enthusiasm for life.
But within the destruction itself, the seeds of redemption are planted. This Shabbat, directly after Tish’a B’Av, is called “the Shabbat of Comfort.” It throbs with the reminder of what we can become if only we wake up each morning to the sheer bliss of possibility.