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For the week ending 23 June 2007 / 7 Tammuz 5767

Stir it Up Tie it Down

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
From: Nate in Norfolk
Dear Rabbi,

I have become more interested in Judaism as of late. I am very enthusiastic and eager to learn. However, at the same time, I am also concerned that I may lose this interest at any time because of all the distractions I have in my normal, non-religious daily life. Do you have any advice as to how I can maintain my interest?

Dear Nate,

It’s really amazing that you feel so strongly about your interest in Judaism that you’re already concerned about losing it. I understand that this is not because you are unsure about how you feel about Judaism, but rather because you value so much what you’ve found that you want to make sure you don’t lose it.

One way of making sure you can maintain, preserve and even increase your relationship with Judaism is to treat it in a similar way to cultivating and maintaining a relationship with a person. Just as when you meet someone new, whom you really appreciate and value, you think of things to say and do in order to let that person know how you feel so as not to lose that valued friendship, so too with Judaism you must think of ways to keep the flame burning.

In order to maintain a friendship, you have to put aside time from your busy schedule to spend quality time with the person you care for. Similarly, it is very important that you make time in your routine to continue pursuing your interest in Judaism by reading books or hearing lectures. Nowadays this is easier than ever. Jewish bookstores are full of quality, authentic material on any aspect of Judaism that interests you. Alternatively, if you don’t have access to a good Jewish bookstore, almost any book can be ordered on-line; and there is a wealth of material on the many orthodox websites (see www.ohr.edu for starters) as well. Similarly, there are a tremendous number of free Torah lectures for listening on-line and for download that you can take with you anywhere.

In order to maintain a friendship, it is also necessary to periodically step back from the nitty-gritty details and dynamics of the relationship to regain perspective and remind yourself of why you so value your connection with that person. So too here, it is necessary from time to time to contemplate and recall what you so value in Judaism. This is particularly true when there are other less significant, but more immediate interests or distractions that are vying for your attention. Of course, the path of least resistance and immediate gratification is luring, but one should surely not let a good and close friend go in favor of fleeting, and ultimately disappointing, acquaintances.

In order to maintain a friendship, you must also express your feelings towards and commitment to the relationship in tangible, practical ways. This can include proactively doing things to contribute to the friendship, and also forgoing opportunities or making sacrifices in favor of the friendship. In order to maintain your relationship with Judaism, you should also contribute tangibly to the relationship by actively expressing your feelings and commitment by performing mitzvoth. Conversely, you should be prepared and willing to tangibly forego certain “opportunities” and undergo some sacrifice regarding things that are unacceptable to Judaism. This is the basis for the positive and negative mitzvoth – the do’s and the don’ts of Judaism.

This last idea is related to one of the many interpretations of a verse in Song of Songs, the allegorical and quintessential love song between G-d and the Jewish people. The verse states, “If you are stirred up, arouse the love until it is desirous” (2:7). The Hebrew word used here for desirous is “techpatz” which is related to “chefetz” which literally means “object”. Accordingly, the verse is giving powerful, practical advice on how to keep the flame burning, the explanation of the verse being as follows: If you are stirred to seek G-d, the way to maintain that arousal is by connecting it to tangible objects and acts – namely by taking upon yourself practical observance of the mitzvoth.

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