Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Ritual, Ritual, Ritual!"

"You produce a deadly paradox. Government cannot be religious and self-assertive at the same time. Religious experience needs a spontaneity which laws inevitably suppress. And you cannot govern without laws. Your laws eventually must replace morality, replace conscience, replace even the religion by which you think to govern. Sacred ritual must spring from praise and holy yearnings which hammer out a significant morality. Government, on the other hand, is a cultural organism particularly attractive to doubts, questions and contentions. I see the day coming when ceremony must take the place of faith and symbolism replaces morality."—Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah

It took me a few re-reads to comprehend what was being said here, but it corroborates (one of) Luke's pet peeves: "Ritual, ritual, ritual!" he repeatedly fumes. 

The Torah is a Book of Law, the Book of Law. But spirituality, in its essence, cannot be dictated into existence. How often are we guilty of executing a presumably faithful act via the stiff confines of boring regulation? We do it because we have to do it, not because we embrace the heavenly aspect of the task.
I bet tefillin takes on a whole new aspect when you're on the front lines. No rote there.
Then we can come to confuse the obscure and exotic yet not required as exemplary spirituality, like my pet peeve, segulos. You know why they are so popular? Because they are new, shiny, and different then all the other monotonous stuff that's been done already, like davening, Shabbos, and being nice to people. I'm really surprised that no one has brought back animal sacrifice yet; it's just begging to be exploited. Maybe because we're more frightened of PETA? 

Anywho, yes, there is merit even in dully fulfilling commandments, but that's not where our ideal religion lies. Remember the meaning, which is, even if we do or do not know why we are doing it: Hashem asked us to. So it must really, coolly, awesomely, be important. He didn't ask us to accumulate enough simanim to make the dining room table to collapse.   

As I typed this, I had not yet ventured into the bug-infested garage and hauled out the succah and schach; hadn't yet struggled with the extension cord to install the lighting; hadn't yet decorated it. I do it every year, happily, and I hope I continue doing it with the same childish excitement as when Ta and Luke graciously allowed me to "help" when I was 5, lamely dragging an idle bamboo branch.
But the eagerness, to be frank, stems from the fact that it is a once-a-year outing. But do I really know the reason and emphasis? I was surprised how woefully unaware I was while listening to this enlightening shiur by Rabbi Daniel Glatstein. I'm supposed to be executing this for the sake of the mitzvah, not because it's rarely practiced. (Although, I was now reminded that women are pattur from the mitzvah of succah. I like the Chasam Sofer's reasoning better than the fact that women are not bound by mitzvas asei bizman grama.)

There are so many seemingly small actions are just as important as the succah itself, if not more. Can I be the same excited when I prepare the lachter for Shabbos? When Ta asks me to find him the Time magazine? When I step into Shmoneh Esrei on a typical Wednesday morning? These small actions are just as important as the succah itself, if not more. Why shouldn't they warrant the same exhilaration?

There is a difference between halacha, chumra, minhag, and some new thing that was invented last week. They don't all get the same amount of emphasis.  


Daniel Saunders said...

I like this a lot! But I disagree about the popularity of segulot; I think people like them because they give the illusion of control. Much easier to do a segulah than to admit that there are many areas of life over which one has limited control or even no control at all. And much easier to do a segulah than to admit that G-d has His own plans and sometimes says "No" to our requests.

But to get to your main point, it's actually codified in halakhah. In Temple times if they could not (for some reason) offer all the sacrifices on a Shabbat or Yom Tov, then the most ordinary sacrifice took precedence: weekday Tamid over Shabbat Mussaf, Shabbat Mussaf over Rosh Chodesh Mussaf etc. I believe the same applies today to davening: someone too ill to daven a whole Shabbat/Yom Tov service should prioritise the prayers we say every day over the unique Shabbat/Yom Tov ones., counter-intuitive though that may seem

Anonymous said...

Just a comment on the tefillin, it says "וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ה' נקרא עליך ויראו ממך". The "שם ה' נקרא עליך" is tefillin. So putting them on during war / at the front lines truly does have awesome power. That is why the Rebbe started the 'Tefillin campaign" back in 1967 before the six day war.

Princess Lea said...

DS: Ah, control. Yes, that is true. But in general, segulos are also much easier than doing many actual mitvos. Early on I wrote a post on the heinousness of the current practice of shiluach ha'kan; I even received a comment that while kibud av v'eim has the same reward, it's just so much easier to do the former. I had no idea how to respond to that sort of thinking. Apparently, he thinks he's now completely absolved!

So it was codified! Thank you for reminding me!

Prof: Yes, but my point was that we can bring that same sort of passion when it is not wartime, if we choose to be aware about the importance of the everyday.