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The Law of Inertia

The Law of Inertia

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"Don't get me wrong Rabbi, I know that Judaism is important and all, but I just don't have the time. And I can't afford it. And I don't want to look hypocritical. Besides, my parents were good people and they didn't see the need to go so over the top. And also I did business once with a religious person and he robbed me blind."

Fact or fiction, explanation or excuse, who among us hasn't trotted out some justification or other to rationalize our inability or unwillingness to do more?

In theory we all wish to be good Jews with more of the same for our childrenI challenge you to poll the synagogue attendees this Yom Kippur, I guarantee that 100% of them, even those one-day-a-yearers, care deeply about Judaism, want to know more about their religion and hope and pray that their kids keep the faith.

In theory we all wish to be good Jews with more of the same for our children. In practice, for most of us, most of the time, the price of commitment is just too high. People are creatures of habit, we tend to fall into a rut and it would take the proverbial crowbar to prize us out of our pattern.

Please don't get me wrong, I'm not just having a go at the non-observant, rabbi and orthodox folks are no better and frequently worse. Is an orthodox person who keeps Judaism out of the habit of his upbringing, never subjecting his observances to self-analysis, for no better reason than his having been born to a religious family, that much more commendable than his irreligious neighbor who adheres to his own family customs or lack thereof?

The Law of Inertia states that "objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion." Humans are the same; it is the rare individual who has the vision and courage to voluntarily make wholesale changes to his lifestyle. Those exceptional examples, the seekers and the searchers among us, blaze a bright trail on their journey through life, while we lesser mortals scurry around in their shadow, vainly eking out a humdrum existence.

Unfortunately, for many people, only when faced with hardships or tragedy do they examine their existence. At times of maximum vulnerability, people tend to gravitate to the sanctuary of their faith, hoping to ride out the hard times under Judaism's shelter. This time of crisis becomes the impetus for a rapprochement with their G‑d.

Don't wait for the cold shower of tragedy to shock you into conformityWe read this week the first paragraph of the Shema, the basis credo of Jewish belief: "Hear O Israel, the L-rd, Our G‑d, the L-rd is one." The verses continue to describe our love for G‑d and some of the basic commandments. Twice a day, "night and morning," we are instructed to reaffirm that commitment. This obligation is fulfilled by the recitation of the Shema.

I would like to posit an alternative explanation for this verse. The love of G‑d is the basis of our faith; as a feeling of connection to one's Creator drives one to live up to His religious expectations. This connection must be a constant, both during the blackness of night, when all is dark and turning to G‑d for succor comes naturally, and under the bright lights of daytime when the average man feels no need of reassurance.

Connecting to G‑d during the hard times comes easily, but how many have the intelligence to hop off the gravy train while the good times still roll? Don't wait for the cold shower of tragedy to shock you into conformity, the verse advises; reconnect to G‑d now, during the good times and take pleasure in choosing your path not under duress but because it is the right thing to do.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.
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