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Monday, 31 March 2014

Is there any other religion as fun as Judaism?

Sukkah 55

“Honey, have the kids got their costumes ready?” Bill asked Jenny, eagerly anticipating his favourite festival, Purim.
“Yes.  Jimmy is dressing up Batman and Sally is Aurora.  How about you, Bill, are you dressing up?”
“Still trying to decide,” replied Bill.
“Well, we’d better be on our way.  We’re going to miss the Megilla!” Jenny called down the hall.
“Oh, come on,” Bill responded exasperatedly, “we don’t have to get there right at the beginning and sit through all the boring stuff.  I don’t think they start with the Hamans until chapter three or something.  The kids will go out of their minds, they won’t sit still.   We’ll make it in time for the fun part!”

On each of the intermediate days of Sukkot a different chapter of Psalms was recited together with the musaf offering.  Each of these was carefully chosen as a means to effect reflection and introspection on the part of the people.  On the second day, they would chant Psalms 50, “And to the wicked, G-d said: Why do you teach My laws and carry My covenant upon your mouth? For you despise discipline and throw My words away!”

Rashi explains that the Psalm was directed at those who came to the Temple for the party without making the proper spiritual preparations.  Sure, the Simchas Beis HaShoeivah – the Water-Drawing Festival – was the most joyous occasion on the Jewish calendar, but in order to truly appreciate it, one had to assume the right spiritual state of being. 

Otherwise, what differentiated the festival from any other contemporary pagan festival?  They drink, we drink.  They eat, we eat.  They sing and dance, we sing and dance.  It was only with the right spiritual and psychological preparation that one would have a truly uplifting, meaningful experience.  The recitation of the Psalm was a final reminder to those who had not prepared themselves to reflect upon the holiness of the moment.

Many people adhere to religion today because it’s fun and enjoyable.  Some megachurches have mastered the art of making services into a rock concert.  And sadly, many synagogues are following suit.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a free, weekly rock concert?  Similarly, many families and communities celebrate Chanukah and Purim as the highlight of the year.  What a wonderful feel-good Judaism!

Unfortunately, that misses the point.  Judaism is not about fun and games.  It’s about developing in ourselves and our children a deep and meaningful connection with the Almighty.  Just showing up to the party isn’t going to cut it, because there are a lot of parties out there that one could attend.  We eat, they eat.  We drink, they drink.  If that’s all it’s about, then why choose our religion?  Why do Chanukah, when one could just as well do Christmas?  If the Purim Megilla is just about waving a gragger when Haman’s name is read, haven’t we lost our bearing?

Judaism contains much celebration and joy.  But in order to fully appreciate the festivities, it takes a deep spiritual commitment and warrants the necessary preparation.  In order to reach chapter three, one needs the discipline to sit still for chapters one and two.  It’s hard, it’s tough, sometimes it’s burdensome, but it teaches our children that Judaism is not just a joke.

Are you just getting ready to party or are you getting ready for the party?  Are you taking time for yourself and with your children to learn about and internalize the meaning of the celebration?  Are you drawing spiritual sustenance from the joy of the festivities into the routine of daily life? 

Only once you are able to answer affirmatively, will your Judaism and that of your children will be meaningful, deep and sustainable for generations.

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