I have a bad habit. Now you already know from my willingness to disclose it that it’s not that bad. But, still, ever since I was a young girl, I have not been able to kick the tendency to manicure my cuticles with my mouth. So without sharing any disgusting details, let me just share that last Yom Kippur, as I felt truly inspired to get closer to G-d in a measurable way, I committed myself to stopping. For real this time. And I did. For many weeks, I remembered the sincerity and passion, my joy in serving my Creator in a way that would make Him happy. Forget the obvious benefits of having grown-up looking hands, stopping this habit would mean that I would no longer accidentally cause myself to bleed on Shabbos, something the Torah forbids. It’s not murder or idolatry, I know, but a mitzvah is a mitzvah and I hadn’t been so good with this one.For many weeks after Yom Kippur, I was “good.” Each time I started, I remembered how sure and sincere I was on that sacred day; I had made a holy, heartfelt commitment and I needed to honor it. I don’t have to tell you that it’s gotten harder as the year has gone on. The inspiration that was once so undeniable and energizing sometimes feels like a burden. And it gets harder every week; I’ve even failed a couple of times.
What is it that makes me want to be close to a G-d Who cares about how I treat my fingers? Wouldn’t we both be happier if I was just a good person?
Next Tuesday night we celebrate Shavuos, the holiday commemorating the “marriage” between G-d and the Jewish people. He told us all everything He wants.
Over a million people heard G-d Himself say the first two of the Ten Commandments–I am the Lord your G-d Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and You shall have no other gods before me. (Moses gave us the other eight when we couldn’t handle the intensity). Never in recorded history has G-d spoken to an entire nation. While we may not remember being there, we are taught that every Jewish soul, indeed all of creation beyond any strictures of space or time, witnessed that revelation. We unequivocally accepted G-d’s proposal, answering na’aseh v’nishma, “we will do and we will hear.”We bought the Torah package unconditionally, sight unseen, no refunds or exchanges. G-d “signed” the deal, too; He promised we would be His Chosen people eternally. The “do” part–our commitment to “doing” all of G-d’s mitzvos–supersedes everything. The “hear” part–our commitment to Torah learning in order to understand what G-d really wants–is also essential to our successful relationship with Him.
If you’re like some people, your father can tell you he heard about this Divine revelation from his father, who heard about it from his father, and so on, all the way back over a hundred generations to a real ancestor who was right there with Moses himself. This unbroken chain should offer ample proof of Torah’s Divine revelation, yet somehow many don’t “believe” it. And if the unbroken chain of generations doesn’t suffice, what about the fact that every Torah scroll everywhere in the world is identical, right down to the last letter? Or the miraculous survival of the Jewish people?Why do we believe that George Washington crossed the Delaware when we didn’t see that either?
Because George Washington’s activities don’t affect us like the question of Torah’s divinity does.
In today’s world, people might not want to be bothered thinking about what to do with their fingers on Shabbos. But, the real question is, why not?
Although I didn’t see this myself, I understand that most American Jews are descended from impoverished immigrants who came to this country around the turn of the 20th century. Shabbos observance was challenging for these Jews when their jobs (and hungry families) demanded working on Saturdays. This was the beginning of the slow but steady move away from “believing,” of not telling their children everything they heard from their parents and grandparents all the way back to Sinai. With each generation, the booming heavenly voice these souls heard at Sinai became softer and softer; to reconcile eternity with modernity, Torah got a makeover.But G-d’s voice still sounds constantly, maybe even a little louder on Shavuos when our souls are reminded of the eternal promise we all made to G-d.
It’s challenging to listen to His voice when immediate gratification beckons otherwise. I know that well. But when I succeed in putting G-d’s desires ahead of my own, my desires slowly become the same as His. Instead of feeling burdened, I can be exhilarated that He cares so much about every detail of my life.
Marriage is a lot of work, but it’s worth it.