It turns out I am a week ahead on my blog for the weekly parsha, so last’s week post, Mattos-Masei, will be read this coming Sabbath. Rather than skipping a week, I decided to address the topic that I am asked about most frequently in my work as a chaplain: How can you live like this?
Generally, the person is questioning how and/or why I do the following:
- Deal with all the food rules (keeping kosher).
- Pray all the time (three times a day).
- Do not watch television or drive on Friday nights and Saturdays (Sabbath observant).
Conceptually each of these is a mitzvah, a practice G-d has instituted through which I can create a relationship with Him. A simple metaphor is when, as a child, your mother asked you to make your bed. You had two choices:
- Make your bed, thereby demonstrating to your mother that you care about her.
- Neglect or refuse to make your bed, thereby demonstrating a lack of concern for her.
(Of course, the third option is to exhibit early onset OCD and make your bed, though your mom did not ask, because you have to have a neat room.)
The first behavior enhances your relationship with your mother. The second does not. Similarly with G-d and mitzvahs. You have free will. You can choose to strengthen your relationship with the Creator by following them or weaken it by not doing so.
The follow-up question usually requires greater specificity. I tell them:
- Keeping kosher: Suppose you want to achieve peak athletic performance. One thing you would do is be very intentional about your diet, determining the optimum mix of foods and beverages and when they should be eaten so as to hit a zenith at the appropriate time. If your goal is obtaining the ultimate spiritual performance, the diet through which to do that is keeping kosher. Do I understand the “why” behind every aspect of it? No. But I have faith that G-d knows how I should nourish my body so as to best bolster my spirit.
- Praying: If you want to become a master it takes regular practice. As gifted as are Usain Bolt and LeBron James, their work ethic turned their raw skill into incomparable performance. Do I achieve a deep connection with the Almighty every time I pray? No. Especially during the week there are too many distractions. In a way, the 18-weekday prayers are preparation for the big game, Sabbath prayers, when there are far fewer hindrances to connecting.
- Sabbath observant: Ever more experts are recognizing the importance of rest in achieving excellence. No less than the aforementioned Bolt takes off six weeks each fall to eat whatever he wants and not train. As well, it is no coincidence that the forefathers and foremothers were shepherds. If you want to develop your spirit you need to create an atmosphere conducive to contemplation. Television, movies, driving, restaurants, indeed everyday life, impede such development.
Having the perspective of my earlier secular life, I now live with more focus and intention. What others view as constraints, even shackles, I have found liberate me from much of what negatively impacts so many in our society. Rather than being anachronistic, in the face of the complexity of modern life, these millennia-old practices are more necessary than ever.
Question – How do you build your relationship with G-d?
You can leave a comment on this question or ask another question below ↓