|Monday, 18 December 2017||
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Taking Up No Space
By Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman
The sound of the shofar has awakened our slumbering souls. The words of the rabbi's sermon have pierced the veil of spiritual complacency. Our individual and collective missions in this world have been brought into fine focus. We are finally ready to step up to the plate, accept the yoke of Heaven, and dare to be truly great in the coming year. After a year of spiritual meandering, we are ready to serve G-d.
‘Tis the season for teshuva (repentance), and with the High Holiday season in full gear, many of us find ourselves feeling inspired and seeking to increase our involvement in Torah study, sincere prayer, acts of kindness, and other worthwhile religious pursuits.
Unfortunately, as genuinely inspired as we may feel during the High Holidays, many of us become disillusioned and soon abandon our passion for new and additional religious commitments. All of us, to some extent, are susceptible to the following argument: One might say, "Wait a minute. Why am I thinking about taking on more? I already have Torah commitments; there is simply no more time in the day to add any more! Hey, the time in my day is already carefully allotted to allow for some prayer and Torah study, and as it is, I'm spread thin. Better I stick with what I am doing, instead of committing to something I know full well I have no time for."
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
This attractive argument takes a toll on each of us, appealing to our sense of pragmatism. Little by little, this "logic" works its magic on us until the desire to build on our Torah accomplishments is extinguished. What a sad ending to a High Holiday season that started with so much promise.
However, we can defy the powerful forces of spiritual gravity that ultimately result in inertia and stagnation. This writer would like to suggest an antidote to this self-defeating mentality, based on his novel understanding of a passage in the Talmud. Let's take a look.
Throughout the Talmud, the Sages explain in fantastic detail many of the miracles that took place in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In one particularly well-known passage (Yoma 21a; Bava Basra 99a), the Talmud and its commentators discuss the physical dimensions of the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant that was placed inside of it. After some old-fashioned number crunching, the conclusion is reached that the Ark of the Covenant miraculously took up no space within the Holy of Holies.
What does this have to do with our High Holiday dilemma? And what are we supposed to learn from this miracle- how is this relevant to our lives? After all, Hashem doesn't make miracles for nothing!
The answer is: In a place of holiness, there is always room for more holiness.
All of us are involved, albeit to differing degrees, in worthwhile Torah pursuits. Whether we observe Shabbat, attend a weekly Torah class, or volunteer for Jewish organizations, every single one of us is involved in bringing sanctity into our daily lives and serving Hashem. Therefore, each of us is already a miniature Holy of Holies, a "place of holiness". The lesson we learn here is that no matter what level of Torah activity we are engaged in today, there is room to add even more holiness. Like the example in the Talmud, this applies even in places where a good bit of holiness can already be found!
Many people sincerely want to keep Shabbat, or attend a nightly Talmud class, yet many of these same people face an intellectual obstacle. Quite simply, they feel that no matter how worthwhile the pursuit, it simply will not fit into the "dimensions" of a lifestyle already crammed with other worthwhile pursuits. Next time you find yourself thinking in this manner, don't get hung up on the details. Just stop what you're doing and perform that mitzvah. Above all else, don't expend your energy making calculations and wondering how it is going to fit into your already-hectic lifestyle. Many people have taken the leap of faith and added Torah commitments where there was seemingly no room for them, and Hashem has never disappointed them.
With respect to his commandments, G-d has not asked of us the impossible. The same G-d that has given us our daily responsibilities and mundane concerns is the same One who has demanded of us that we keep His Torah. Our job is to observe His Torah; His job is to sort out all the other details. If the only way a Torah lifestyle will fit into our hectic existence is by an open miracle, so that the holy pursuits "take up no space," so be it. If we keep our end of the bargain, Hashem will most certainly keep His.
Hashem is now banging the gavel, calling for order in the Heavenly Court. This year, let us answer the call.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman is Founder of the Jewish Executive Learning Network (JELN), a Lakewood-based organization that shares the beauty of Torah study with young professional men in their 20's and 30's in the New York City area and beyond. His JELN classes are available in video and MP3 format at TorahAnytime.com. In addition to his communal work, Rabbi Bregman manages his own law firm, specializing in Corporate Law and Trusts & Estates. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.