In his well known article "Rupture and Reconstruction", which appeared in 1994, Chaim Soloveitchik discusses the trend towards halakhic strictness in contemporary Orthodoxy. Prof. Soloveitchik concludes his article in this fashion: "I think it is safe to say that the perception of God as a daily natural force is no longer present to a significant degree in any sector of modern Jewry, even the most religious ... Religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him, than on an intimacy with His Will... Having lost the touch of His presence, they now seek the solace of His yoke."
"God as a daily natural force is no longer present. A now unattainable intimacy. Lost His presence. Seek His Yoke."
These very resonant lines attest to something fundamental that is taking place in Judaism now . Often this move towards stringency, or chumra, in almost all corners of Orthodoxy, has been analysed as a response to the onslaught of modernity or the perceived laxness of the Reform or Conservative movements. But Prof. Soloveitchik suggests that there is also a poignant theological reason for what many have called the "slide to the right." Unable to really feel God's presence, Orthodox Jews in the last number of years have turned to strictness in halakha, as if somehow, if there was just that much more fastidiousness to every single piece of halakhic minutiae, if every last detail of mitzvah observance were covered, every last humra were invoked, then maybe, just maybe, the concealed God of Auschwitz, the hidden God of silence would creep out and become revealed amidst our current darkness.
Would toward it were. But it is not quite that simple.
Though the history of Judaism is a constant struggle with the goal of trying to experience God in daily life, Dr. Soloveitchik alludes to a " now unattainable intimacy", and infers that such intimacy was more easily attainable in the past. And there are certainly special factors that make the quest for God particularly difficult in our day and age. Much of this assault on simple faith has been very well documented - the effect of the Enlightenment and the subsequent turn towards moral relativism; the rise of modern science and technology as a replacement for faith; and of course the devastating impact of the Holocaust and, with it, doubt about the presence of God. The kind of almost organic place that religion had in pre-modernity in the life of the ordinary Jew, where the presence of God was a taken for granted idea, is popularly captured in Fiddler on the Roof, based on the Sholem Aleichem story, where Tevye the milkman speaks to God in ordinary folksy conversation with the clear assumption that God is real.
In this talk, I want to think about what is especially daunting for those in search of God today. What is the best path to God and can we ever know that? Does religion help or hinder us in our attempt to forge an relationship with God?
Tisha B'Av epitomizes this problem. We are told in many sources that the offering of korbanot was a crucial method of not only atoning for sin but of creating a communion with God, of feeling that closeness. Presumably that severed connection lies at the heart of our sadness on Tisha B'Av. Yet the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and the loss of the sacrificial system occurred two millennia ago, and though we are supposed to mourn their loss and yearn for their return, by now many of us are ambivalent and even squirm at the very idea - do I really want to be slaughtering animals and calling that religion? We live in an age of computer screens and information highways. Secretly, we may not relish the return of the sprinkling of blood and the burning of limbs.
One could argue that we eat animals that have been slaughtered for our food with little hesitation, but perhaps we view such slaughter as part and parcel of our physical needs. But to kill animals for a spiritual intent seems counterintuitive. Just because Jews used to do it, the argument might go, does that mean we need to revive the practice in the vastly different cultural context of today? To this end, it is worth briefly reviewing the argument of Rambam and Ramban over whether korbanot are intended by God lechatchilah, even prior to Israelite history. In a famous and much commented upon passage in 3:32 of The Guide of the Perplexed , Maimonides writes the following:
"A sudden transition from one opposite to another is impossible. And therefore man, according to his nature, is not capable of abandoning suddenly all to which he was accustomed... At that time, the way of life generally accepted and customary in the whole world and the universal service upon which we were brought up consisted in offering various species of living beings in the temples in which images were set up, in worshipping the latter, and in burning incense before them.
His wisdom and His gracious ruse, did not require that he give us a Law prescribing the rejection, abandonment, and abolition of all these kinds of worship. For one could not then conceive the acceptance of such a Law, considering the nature of man, which always likes that to which it is accustomed. At that time, this would have been similar to the appearance of a prophet in these times, who, calling upon the people to worship God, would say: "God has given you a Law forbidding you to pray to Him, to fast, to call upon Him for help in misfortune. Your worship should consist solely in meditation, without any works at all.
Therefore He, may he be exalted, suffered the above mentioned kinds of worship to remain, but transferred them from created or imaginary and unreal things to his own name, may He be exalted, commanding us to practice them with regard to Him.....
Through this divine ruse it came about that the memory of idolatry was effaced and that the grandest and true foundation of our belief-namely, the existence and oneness of the deity-was firmly established."
That this would be a controversial way to describe korbanot is not hard to see. In this depiction, God comes off as a bit of a wily character, perpetrating what Maimonides calls "His gracious ruse." Korbanot are presented virtually as a concession to an ancient mentality that has become used to sacrificial worship since this was a staple of the pagan way of life. It would be impossible, according to Maimonides' historical reconstruction, to make the adjustment to a different kind of worship, akin to someone today telling us that prayer is no longer allowed and shuls are superfluous. In the passage I just read, and at other times in The Guide , Maimonides seems to allude to the idea of a potentially superior worship, a kind of progression up the ladder of the spirit, from sacrifice to prayer to meditation and in the end, to silence, to sheer intellectual contemplation.
This progression is also chronological as well as spiritual, captured in succeeding historical stages. First comes the offering of animals; then the more refined but still relatively crude performance of prayer; then the subtler and more intellectual mode of meditation and silence. A little bit further on in 3:32 of The Guide , Maimonides talks about two intentions of the Torah, which, although related, are definitely divided into primary and secondary. The primary goal is what he calls "the apprehension of God," the focusing of all mental and emotional energies towards God and the constant feeling that whatever one is doing--eating, talking, walking, teaching--that one is standing in God's presence. The secondary intention of the law is to combat idolatrous practices wherever they may be found. Maimonides makes it clear that sacrifices pertain to the second intention (to combat idolatry) whereas with prayer, the goal is to come closer to the first intention, to get close to God.
The problem with this rendering of korbanot is obvious. If they are an historically specific institution, to be surpassed by later and better forms of worship, this opens the door wide open to a host of questions. Here are two for a start. 1) If sacrifices are historicized, what about all other mitzvot? Maybe they were good for their time but no longer? 2) What of the truth claims of other religions such as Christianity which argues that while the Torah may have once been valid, it has been replaced and superceded by a superior form of religion, namely belief in Christ. Criticism of the Maimonidean view, as you can imagine, was not long in coming.
Ramban, in his commentary to 1:9 of Vayikra, heavily rebukes Mainmonides for his words in The Guide , calling them "nonsense" and saying that "they make the table of God despised." Indeed, Ramban here, to use a poker term, sees Maimonides' history lesson and raises him by invoking even more ancient history: " When Noah went out of the ark with his three sons, there were no Chaldeans or Egyptians in the world, yet he offered a sacrifice and it found favour in the eyes of the Lord." Ramban goes on to cite another example in the story of Kayin and Hevel, citing Hevel's sacrifice as being pleasing to God. He concludes with this: "Heaven forbid that there should be no benefit and no desired end from sacrifice but only the denial of idolatry from the opinions of fools."
Without getting into some of the more technical points of Ramban's critique, his overarching message is quite bracing: the mitzvot are permanent in purpose and intent, and remain the best path to God that there is. Even Maimonides, as is well known, did not let his philosophical opinion get in the way of the faithful codification, in the Mishneh Torah, of all of the sacrificial rites.
I have spent a bit of time here on this problem of sacrifices to try and edge us closer to a persistent quandary in modern Jewish life, which is what happens when you find that the performance of mitzvah, rather than bringing you closer to God, seems to take you farther away. If the purpose of Torah is to remind us that we are always in the presence of God, then to use the example of Shabbat, will that longed for closeness be achieved more by not ripping toilet paper; or by driving to the zoo and seeing the wonders of nature? I cite that example because it was one that was communicated to me a while back by a Reform rabbi, who argued that sometimes the Torah seems the very antithesis of spirituality, and that if knowledge of God is the end game, then maybe a little less halakhic fidelity would be a good thing.
I thought the example was constructed around a faulty analogy; after all if one is going to make a fair comparison, then why not compare the zoo outing to a long walk on Shabbat unfettered by a ringing cellphone or traffic jams? But though the rabbi and I parted company on Hilchot Shabbat, this problem of Judaism paradoxically getting in the way of seeking God is a real one, and it comes up quite persistently in our age of autonomy, where people's first resort for moral reasoning is often themselves, what one might call their "sense of things."
However, as I noted before, once you start assessing mitzvot as out of date, then the slippery slope is pretty much endless. Korbanot are an easy target, but I see no reason why that line of thinking should stop with sacrifices. Why wear black boxes on one's arms? Will this really get me to God? Why wave palm branches? Blow ram's horns? Why eat unleavened bread for a week? Why avoid certain foods? This devil's advocate argument can go on and on. It is true that many books have been written supplying reasons for these mitzvot, but ultimately there is a recognition that we do them because this is the divine will. We serve God in God's way, and not ours.
But what if serving God in God's way does not feel spiritual? For the late Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, this is all beside the point. His reason that we must serve God in God's way is quite ironic, if the end goal is closeness to God. Because Leibowitz, following in Maimonides' footsteps, sees God as utterly unknowable, and hence any attempt at spirituality which does not conform with halakha may feel good , may even be quite effective in creating devekut, but it is not a mitzvah and hence cannot be called service of God.
The implications of this are fairly radical, and are nicely summarized by Leibowitz's student, Professor Ehud Benor. Dr. Benor, in opposition to the model of spiritual progression I laid out earlier, writes that "The comparison of sacrifices to prayer and meditation does not necessarily imply that one practice supercedes the other. The comparison can imply supercession only if we assume that it is possible for human beings to contemplate God... But if God is unknowable, if the divine essence in inconceivable, then the case for meditation will be just as difficult, or even more difficult, to defend because of the inescapable danger of worshipping in one's mind an entity that is other than God."
In other words, if we have no shot at understanding God, then the notion that serving God through meditation is superior to sacrifice simply reflects our own biases and analysis of what is spiritual and what is not. And though every fibre in our body may lean that way, it isn't necessarily so. It is true that in Torah passages we have read recently in Sefer Yirmiyahu and Yeshaya, there is much criticism of bringing sacrifices to God, who is narrated as having no use for them. But the intent of the prophets is to tell us that korbanot without social justice is a fairly empty gesture, not to strip korbanot of their halakhic centrality.
But if we cannot ultimately understand God, then what is the point of mitzvah and what is the utility of trying to experience an unfathomable being? Good questions for which I do not have answers. One could say Leibowitz is wrong and that God is fathomable. Or one could argue a version of the medieval notion that doing a mitzvah is good for you even if you don't know how and why, similar to taking medicine which cures you even if you don't know what the medicine is composed of how it actually works.
But even if Judaism tells you to do mitzvot because they are good for your soul, we tend to trust our feelings and experiences of these things, rather than bald religious pronouncements. We want to feel a closeness to God and not just be told that somehow, one day, being "religious" will give us that experience. The great Catch 22 of contemporary Jewish spirituality, is that halakhic practices may feel repetitive and not uplifting, but they are divinely sanctioned. Non-halakhic practices may inspire and feel transformational but are autonomous and hence for Leibowitz, not in and of themselves religiously relevant or even Jewish. After all, art; athletics; music; nature; philosophy; psychology; sex; travel; these may also be very energizing and life altering, but they are surely domains that are independent of religion and do not rely upon Torah for their existence.
The obvious rejoinder to all of this is that Judaism contains many methods to heighten spirituality and come close to God and that one need not search outside of the Torah for such fulfilment. There is prayer and Torah study; there is mussar and acts of hesed; there is hasidut and kabbalah; there is the miracle of the land of Israel and the reclaimed State; there are books on Jewish meditation and Carlebach minyanim everywhere. And more. There is no doubt that these are all powerful tools for spiritual growth. Given all of these, we should be firing on all spiritual cylinders yet we are not. Perhaps if you don't use them you lose them, and given the inconsistent ways they are presently utilized, I remain steadfast in my conviction that much of this is somewhat peripheral for most people's religious struggle; it may relieve the symptoms from time to time, but it does not cure the patient. I will try to explain why this is so in a moment.
So we have come full circle. The problem of bringing more God into my life in the 21 st century stubbornly remains. I think we need to understand what are the inherent difficulties in this quest as well as what we can control and improve in our ability to find God.
At the heart of the matter lies what you might call an inherent structural problem. It is hard to find God, because God is not there for us in the way anything else is. The philosopher Jacques Derrida, in a very insightful comment, noted that "All signs are a sign of the Fall." What this means is that in the Garden of Eden, Adam HaRishon feels God's presence directly. There are no intermediate steps, no signs or substitutions for God. There is just God, pure and unmediated in a way that is virtually impossible for us to imagine. But after the fall and the expulsion from Eden , all we have are signs.
Take a gravestone. The person has died and we erect a sign, a physical trace of them, but it is a trace of their being gone . Even Torah is a kind of sign - in the absence of the God of Eden we have a text. We use signs to recover the presence of something, to say this is a representation of that , but the sign itself guarantees that the real presence is gone. If it were here, we would no longer need the sign of the thing. We'd have the thing itself.
The best illustration of this I have ever seen is actually in a 19 th century work of fiction, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. In the novel, the main character, Heathcliff, has desperately attempted to erase the gap and fill the chasm between him and his soul mate, Catherine, who has died several years before. Heathcliff is still hoping that he can recapture her presence. To this end, he systematically takes possession of everything in sight, literally buys up people and property, all because they remind him of Catherine. Heathcliff thinks, in a quirky but intuitive logic, that if he can demolish everything in the way blocking him from her, then there will be nothing left but her. He will somehow "get her back." But in the end, his efforts are tragically futile, for reasons he can articulate perfectly in this speech near the end of the text:
"What is not connected with her to me? And what does not recall her? I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree - filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object by day, I am surrounded by her image. The most ordinary faces of men and women - my own features mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist and that I have lost her."
Although everything symbolizes and represents Catherine, it is the very fact of these things signifying her, of substituting for her, of being an image of her, that brings home so profoundly to him his devastating lack, the absence of her presence. Of his "violent exertions" to reconnect with her, he says ultimately, "where is the use?" The literary critic J. Hillis Miller summarizes this enormous irony: "each sign is both an avenue to the desired unity and also the barrier standing in the way of it."
After Eden , after Sinai, everything is a salvage job. There are things that make it easier-and you can choose your own preference-- but for me feeling the inchoate power of the divine in some fearsomely beautiful stretch of Israeli desert is one example. And there are obviously things that make it harder, like watching piles of bones in the images first taken of the concentration camps after they were liberated. But all in all, the recovery of God's presence and the attempt to get closer is always tenuous, and very hard most of the time.
None of us can solve the fact of God's invisibility and the structural problems of "finding" a Being utterly unlike ourselves. So I would like to concentrate, in the time remaining, on one factor that I feel we do have control over and which requires a revolution in my view, a revolution which would greatly help us in our connection to God, and that is the role of the community.
I mentioned that each person has had experiences or does certain things which help them to feel the presence of God. Special places one goes to, music one listens to; the birth of children; the recovery from illness. I mentioned earlier a number of tools that are intrinsically powerful - kabbalah; meditation; intensity in prayer; Torah study. But what unifies all of these threads is that they are most often realized in private or individual situations. I have learned over the years that for me, the really missing piece and the one that would make a profound difference is how we as a Jewish community help one another to put God front and centre.
What should be an aid in the quest for God - the power of the community to invigorate and renew one's striving for the divine, can often turn out to be an impasse, if the community gets mired in religious politics, name calling, a lack of communication, coldhearted judgementalism; and worse, a strange lack of love. It has been my feeling for a long time that we must virtually reconstruct the religious community we live in. I will try to explain. Feel free to disagree.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first chief rabbi of Palestine, and one of the most creative thinkers in Jewish history, speculates that the essential difference between the First And Second Temple periods was a decline in the life of the collective and the rise of individualism and individual religious consciousness. He writes that during the Second Temple period, with the "receding of the great universal light, the divine idea began to take on features of individuality." For Rav Kook this is a spiritual reduction. He believes that the ultimate spiritual power for Jews lies in our collective strength as opposed to individual fulfilment. Although God can be found by each of us in the various corners of our life, in bits and pieces of solitary searching, the real experience of revelation comes through what we are able to accomplish together. How are we doing on that scale in 2007?
I would like to raise three points in this regard.
1) Do we as a community engage religion in a serious broad, open inspiring fashion? Are we afraid of ideas or do we seek out forms of knowledge? Do we assign meaning to external shows of piety or
even material wealth, or to internal states of being?
2) How do we in the Orthodox community, from laity to rabbinic leadership, relate to Jews of all kinds? Are we willing to engage other Jews religiously without necessarily trying to convert them to our sense of the truth? This applies both to other kinds of Orthodox Jews as well as those who are not observant or affiliated with other movements?
3) Do our schools and shuls inspire a sense of wonder about God and a feeling of curiosity and excitement about the religious domain?
With regard to my first point. On May 9 th , 1958, in an address in New York City , Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said the following: "It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendour of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless.
Religion is an answer to ultimate questions. The moment we become oblivious to ultimate questions, religion becomes irrelevant and its crisis sets in."
Almost fifty years have passed and Heschel's words are as true now as they were then. We do some very fine things as a community. We have hesed projects and daf yomi and Israel action committees and very committed parents and teachers. But we often lose sight of ultimate questions. One would think that Orthodox communities, to name the community I know best, would be doing their utmost to make recovery of God's presence a top priority. One would think that silence and sacredness in worship, a premium placed on self-examination; a serious engagement with ideas; a vision of wholeness and an embracing of God's world and all of God's creatures, and above all, an atmosphere of love and tolerance between Jews of all stripes would imbue Jewish religious practice. We get it in pockets, but overall, it often reluctantly seems to be the case that much of what we presently say and do within Orthodoxy unfortunately thwarts that goal.
Real growth is painful. It requires thinking about views that are even anathema to oneself but in the quest for truth, being able to at least civilly talk and civilly listen. As though to anticipate Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, Rav Kook, in his essay, "The Pangs of Cleansing," has this to say about the search for truth and God:
"All the troubles of the world, especially the spiritual, such as grief, impatience, disillusionment, despair, the truly basic troubles of man - they come about only because of the failure to view clearly the majesty of God. God's being, as conceived by the multitude and even by individuals who would be their leaders, is that of a ruthless power from whom there is no escape and to whom we must necessarily be subservient. The tendency to see the divine essence as embodied in words and in the letters alone is a source of embarrassment to humanity, and atheism arises as a pained outcry
to liberate man from this narrow and alien pit, to raise him from the darkness of focusing on letters and expressions, to the light of thought and feeling, finally to place his primary focus on the realm of morals.
Atheism has a temporary legitimacy, for it is needed to purge away the aberrations that attached themselves to religious faith....to uproot the dross that separates man from the divine light, and in the ruins wrought by atheism will the higher knowledge of God create erect her Temple . Out of the clash of these two opposites will mankind be aided greatly to reach an enlightened knowledge of God, which will bring near its temporal and eternal happiness. Whoever recognizes the essence of atheism from this perspective embraces the positive element in it and traces back its origin to holiness."
This was Rav Kook's position regarding reality. All things have their place. All things contain holiness, but have not always achieved their potential. All ideas can teach us something. This is how God is found argues Rav Kook. Obviously Rav Kook would be the first to say that forbidden things must be shunned and the world is filled with seductions that must be resisted. One is commanded to keep the mitzvot and maintain oneself as a proper Jew, but the quest for God requires a deep understanding of all of the interlocking facets of reality. Cut off the various nooks and crannies of knowledge and the road to God becomes that much more difficult.
This typifies Rav Kook's relationship to Jews of all kinds. How do we relate to not only non-observant Jews, but non-Orthodox Judaisms, to rabbis and people who do not accept or follow the Orthodox view in various matters. There are many fine Orthodox Jews I have met who maintain a position that there should be no religious dialogue or communication with non-Orthodox rabbis and movements. We possess the truth, they are heretics or at best ignoramuses, and there can be no bridging of that gap.
I emphatically disagree. I believe that we as a community, need to begin to speak to each other, and publicly. We will of course disagree, even on fundamental issues, but this can be done respectfully. We can learn from one another. We need to show that although we do not necessarily share the other's point of view, that they are still part of Knesset Yisrael, and that we need each other to be complete. We cannot talk about the destruction of the Temples , the loss of God, the sinat chinam that precipitated the crisis, and then in all good equanimity cut ourselves off from Jews who do not share our views. After all, as Dr. Eliezer Berkovits has commented, although Orthodoxy maintains halakha as divine, "it is still after all, a personal belief . No matter how convincing our reasons and our proofs for the faith may be for us, they still will be no more than reasons and proofs for us ." Truth be told, we needn't point to non-Orthodox Judaism as the point where communication breaks down. We also do the same thing within Orthodoxy. Soon there will be noone left to talk to at all.
The following is from a letter I wrote to an Orthodox rabbi.
I won't say when or where. I will quote a brief part.
"Fear and thus rejection of all views that are not in accordance with one's way seems to be very much in vogue these days in religious Judaism. But is it the best way? As I am sure you are aware, the Maharal in Be'er Hagolah sees such a trend as utterly destructive and not in keeping with the Torah derekh. As he notes, "one who causes his opponent to hold his peace and refrain from speaking, thus demonstrates the weakness of his own religious position ... curbing the words of an opponent in religious matters is nothing but the curbing and enfeebling of religion."
How striking that Maharal writes this of those who oppose religion! How then, can we in the Orthodox world defend such a tactic with our Orthodox co-religionists? You and I both know that criticism of the secular world is not such a difficult task. There is much there that is toxic and empty, and many great modern minds have eloquently dismissed the destructiveness of secular life. So it is not hard for us to address our secular brothers and sisters
and confront them with the need to face up to the truth, to live for meaning, to embrace eternal values, and so on. It is more difficult, is it not, but equally important, to be able to examine our Orthodox house and employ the same standards of honesty and intellectual integrity when it comes to how we model Judaism? How can we look at secular Jews in the eye when we are unwilling to dialogue amongst ourselves?"
My last point about shuls and schools. Finding God does not occur ex-nihilo. It is an art we need to cultivate in our children when they are young, in our congregants on a consistent basis. We have actual letters from the Second temple period that convey what kind of feeling the Temple evoked. One such letter remarks that one who sees the Temple and its priests "will come to astonishment and indescribable wonder, and will be stirred by the holy quality which pertains to every detail." Our shuls are called "mikdash me'at" - do they create a miniature version of this experience?
Is finding God a priority in our educational system? Does the priority of feeling dvekut influence the curriculum of our schools? Do our teachers communicate that this is an important value? Does the tefillah that takes place on our schools teach our children the value of connecting to Hashem? Each person can answer these questions in their own way. But I would like to cite a recent study done by Professor Moshe Sokolow, who teaches Bible and Jewish education at yeshiva University. In an article entitled "Teaching Spirituality in Day Schools and Yeshiva High Schools," Dr. Sokolow reviewed the mission statements of a sample of New York schools and even one in Toronto. Many of the statements skirted around the word spirituality but did include numerous mentions of halakha, learning Torah, developing the whole child, and so on. The curriculum was not organized around dvekut in almost any way. The conclusion is that we are creating an informed generation of Jews but not necessarily ones that recognize the God quest at the centre of a Jews' mission.
I have suggested here some of the factors that I think are instrumental for our community to place God at the centre. Obviously each individual Jew must continue that quest privately as well. It is remarkable to consider how small things can be helpful in this area. The following was written by Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who has a large Conservative congregation out in California. "We North Americans are insane. Eleven p.m. every night, we snuggle up, ready for bed, and what's the last thing we do? We switch on the evening news. Thirty minutes of murder, brutality, corruption, catastrophe, moral lunacy, sports and weather. Good night. And then in the morning we are awakened by the clock radio set to some news station. And we begin the day with... murder, brutality, corruption, catastrophe, moral lunacy, sports and weather. And you want to know why you're depressed?
Mitzvah is not about habit and not about drudgery. Mitzvah is a reminder that we are alive for a short time and we have an opportunity to seek out the highest. For two minutes at the end of each day, we can firmly click off the television/Internet/ telephone/ rush of appointments/loud noises world and turn towards God. We can say Shema slowly and luxuriously. Every night. We can rise and do the same thing. We can be mindful of who we love and how we are going to talk today. We actually have the time, we just need the will.
Finally, Robert Frost, in his early poem "Mending Wall," writes "Something there is that doesn't love a wall/That sends the frozen ground-swell under it/And spills the upper boulders in the sun/ And makes gaps even two can pass abreast." With the wall up, people are isolated from one another; with the wall down, two can pass together through the gap. Frost's meaning is unmistakable.
Tisha B'Av is about nothing if not walls. The Gemara tells us that the second Temple was destroyed because of groundless hatred. In other words. When the walls of our hearts went up, the walls of the Temple came crashing down. Jews seem singularly remarkable for our criticisms of each other. We seem to focus a lot on what the other person has done wrong and not what we can do to help one another.
We are still reeling 2000 years later from the loss of God. If we use reverse logic, then it seems fair to say that when our walls to each other come done, the walls containing God's presence will be rebuilt. It is difficult to find God alone; it is possible and preferable to find God together.
May it be His will to bring Mashiach, bimhera byamenu.