I’m often asked how to make ritual exciting. It’s sad but true that many Jewish children are raised with a ritualistic form of Judaism that lacks spirit. It is difficult to be inspired by repetitive rituals that feel meaningless and redundant. My answer is always the same. Ritual is the key to G‑dly living. Spirituality and meditation are exciting, but there is nothing as real as boots on the ground.


Here is what I mean. For millennia, wars were fought by two armies that closed ranks on the battlefield. The stronger and larger army usually won. In the modern age, there is a whole new way to wage war. We have gone from boots on the ground to aerial and naval warfare. Wars are played out from such a distance that those with their finger on the trigger never even see the enemy they destroy.

Today we have graduated to even more sophisticated forms of warfare: electronic and cyber war. You don’t even need to cross a nation’s boundaries to bring it to its knees. Cyber warfare and economic embargoes are sophisticated ways to wound, and yet boots on the ground are still vital. The only way to win is to marry modern sophistication to ancient art. Put boots on the ground; but fortify, buttress and support them with the entire array of sophisticated weaponry.


Living a life of dedicated spirituality is exciting to many. The mountains of Tibet are dotted with places where, divorced from the distractions of reality, worshippers devote themselves to meditation, serenity and the pursuit of spirituality.

On the other hand, there are millions across the world who rely on organized religion for stability and direction. The rituals ground them, the sanctuaries uplift them and the traditions revive them.

There is no question that it is deeply fulfilling to find spiritual wellness and emotional healing while probing life’s deepest questions. It is much more fulfilling than living on the merry-go-round of life, working every day just to survive.

But just as you cannot replace boots on the ground with sophisticated technology in warfare, so too it is not possible to replace ritual practice with meditation. We must marry spirit to ritual to find meaning.

G‑d designed human beings to be social creatures, to form societies. G‑d wants us to live in the world even as we avoid being of the world, to be simultaneously engaged with it and at a distance from it. He wants us to demonstrate that we can live wholly G‑dly lives while we reside in the hustle and bustle of a large unsheltered world. He wants us to demonstrate that we can live among caprice and avarice and remain honest and humble.

This is what I mean by boots on the ground. You can live a higher spiritual lifestyle when you are living in serenity, away from temptation and social challenges, but how do you know how you might respond when challenged? You can’t test your mettle unless you live in an environment that tries you.

Yet it is true that dogma and ritual alone no longer suffice to fortify us spiritually against the challenges of the modern age. To succeed in today’s world, to transform the workplaces, social clubs and watering holes of the modern world into holy sanctuaries where G‑d is welcome, we must marry ritual and tradition with spirituality and meditation. When ritual is an expression of our throbbing love for G‑d, when our traditions are the outpouring of our spiritual connection to G‑d, the intangible finds a real home in the tangible world, and the ritual is given meaning.

This is how ritual becomes exciting. When eating matzah and sounding the shofar are merely physical actions, they can become meaningless. When they are expressions of our deep yearning for G‑d, and celebrations of our sincere gratitude, they are charged with meaning and vibrant excitement.

Ancient Dilemma

I have presented this tension between spirituality and ritual as a modern dilemma, but in truth there is nothing new under the sun. Everything that we debate today was debated in the past, and the solutions we chance upon today were thought of before.

As our ancestors traveled through the desert, they were split into two camps. Everyone realized that the destination of their journey was Israel, but many Jews fell in love with the journey and didn’t want it to end. In the desert, G‑d had created a cocoon in which Jews were divorced from the real world. They lived an ascetic lifestyle, devoted to experiencing divine revelation and prophetic transmissions, miraculous phenomena and intense Torah study. You can’t get more serene and ascetic than that.

When Moses shook things up by sending spies to Israel, many Jews responded with horror. You want us to give up this ideal for the real world? How will we maintain an unadulterated connection with G‑d while we irrigate land, dig ditches, build cities and fight wars? This isn’t a Jewish way of life!

And yet, Moses was firm in his response and explained that this was precisely the way Jews should live. Go to Israel and drain the swamps, make the deserts bloom and build a country, but do it G‑d’s way. Do it in accordance with G‑d’s instructions and according to His will. Marrying the building of a Jewish land to the spirituality of G‑d’s mandate is the apex of spiritual pursuit.1