Your Cup of Tea

As a rabbi, I often encounter Jews who claim that they are unable to bear the entire burden of the ritual commandments. "You are different," they tell me, "you have more faith than I. You are more able than I. I envy you, but religion is not my cup of tea." My response is always the same. "Don't try to do it all at once, do a little bit today and a little more tomorrow. With time, you may even surprise yourself and develop a taste for the religious cup of tea."

As I speak, I'm always struck by how it easy it is to mistake unwillingness for inability. As I encourage them to move forward, I know that I am not more able than they, only more practiced. I know that with time they too can accustom themselves to the Torah way of life and discover that they, too, are able. They will then know that they never lacked ability, only commitment.

Is this harsh? Am I being insensitive? There was a time when I would have thought soThey tell me they can't, and I think they don't want to. Is this harsh? Am I being insensitive? There was a time when I would have thought so, but today I know different.

The Commitment

I once helped to organize a large community fair. At the planning meeting, when responsibilities were parceled out, I was asked to recruit fifty volunteers for the fair. I balked at the large number, unsure that I could commit. The leader looked down at me and demanded, "Do you think everyone here knows how they'll fulfill their commitments? We only know that if we don't commit, it will certainly not happen."

At the time, I was hurt. Didn't he understand that I couldn't commit on behalf of fifty other people? I didn't say anything but went to work. It took time and effort, but in the end fifty volunteers were recruited and I learned a valuable lesson: if you will it, it will happen.

Empowering Words

When I was a child, my mother always insisted that I finish my meal, homework or chores. I would holler and wail that I wasn't smart, big or strong enough, but she always knew better. To my argument, "But I can't," she'd firmly reply, "But you can!"

At the time, I thought her a demanding mother, completely oblivious to my limitations. Today I know better. If my mother hadn't taught me to reach beyond my grasp, I could not have been who I am today.

The words, "Yes you can," are not oppressive. They are empowering.

The Inspiring Oath

The Jewish nation received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago. Every year, on the anniversary of this date, this biblical episode is commemorated by Jews around the world during a special holiday called Shavuot, which means "weeks," thus called because this holiday always falls exactly seven weeks after Passover.

Every Jewish soul must take the oath. Every Jewish soul must oblige itselfThe Hebrew word Shavuot also means "oaths." The Talmud teaches that G‑d administers an oath to every Jewish soul before it descends into this world, obliging the soul to observe the biblical commandments. Every Jewish soul must take the oath. Every Jewish soul must oblige itself.

But is binding themselves through an oath not fair to those souls that are simply unable to abide by the many laws and restrictions inherent in these commandments?

Every soul knows that it is capable of abiding by every commandment, but it worries that it might lack the will to carry through. Taking the oath obliges the soul and raises its latent abilities to the surface. Administering the oath is G‑d's way of saying, "Go ahead and make the commitment. You can do it. I believe in you."

The day that Jews commemorate receiving the Ten Commandments is the day to remember that empowering oath. The day to remember that G‑d believes in us and empowers us to live up to our commitments.