An Israeli Kiruv Rav, fluent both in Hebrew and English was once invited to speak to a huge crowd of new Baalei Teshuva in New York. He delivered a fiery derasha about the goal of Torah and mitzvos which is to develop a close and intimate relationship with Hashem. Immediately after the derasha was finished, a listener enthusiastically approached him and praised him profusely about his amazing talent to translate comfortably everything Hebrew into perfect English for the audience. “Just one question if you don’t mind answering for me. I fully understood everything you said in your beautiful message. There was only one word that you kept on forgetting to translate throughout the entire speech – Hashem. What does that word exactly mean?”
Torah and mitzvos fulfillment can become unfortunately a lifestyle just because it has many benefits and perks. In this week’s parsha the passuk tells us ושמרתם את חוקתי ואת משפטי אשר יעשה אותם באדם וחי בהם אני ה’. The Sefer Milchamos Yehudah explains this to mean that one must take heed not to fulfill the mitzvos as וחי בהם a lifestyle that one is used to. Even if he observes the mitzvos with all its stringencies and trimmings, it could still be filling out a prescription and is just what the doctor ordered. He did it all the way up to now so why change. Even more so, Torah fulfillment brings to so many perks and serves its community with social intermingling, networking, and benefits, it would be just inconceivable to lose all of this.

When the head of the Conservative Movement gave his retirement farewell speech, he mentioned that if he would do it again he would add to the mitzvos of the Movement the mitzvah of Shabbos. Here he finds himself at the onset of his retirement looking for a Jewish community to surround himself with friends and people to pass the days and spend time with. No luck. Why? All conservative and Reform Jews don’t live in any proximity to each other. If they affiliate with, or attend a synagogue, they travel by car 20 minutes or so to get there and drive home. The reality set in that only Shabbos can pull such a stunt off to make a Jewish neighborhood, for Torah observance, out of necessity automatically creates a Jewish community within walking distance to a shul.

Let us look at some of the social services, needs and personalities that a shul caters to and fulfills. It is a place to shmuz and catch up with all your friends and neighbors even if you haven’t seen them the entire week. A mikveh in the shul adds the ability to receive the latest news hours before it even becomes public. The shul saves one the time and expense to meet your friend at a pub for a drink or two since you have the Kiddush Club on Shabbos. If you haven’t joined yet and if you are lucky, there are plenty of yartzheits during the week and opportunities to make a few lechayims at the tikkun after which, you must find a designated driver to take you to work.

Individuals who are by nature shy, get countless opportunities to go to the public arena by being called to the Torah, saying kaddish for a departed one and even davening at the amud. One thing about these rituals which make it easier for the shy person is that your back is to the audience and you don’t see their smirking and unhappy faces. If you daven in a Shteeble that is progressive, you get to join with others to hold hands on Friday Night Kabbalas Shabbos and dance to the rhythmic singing of greeting the Shabbos Queen. If your minyan is progressive your Kabbalas Shabbos becomes Carlibachian and you sing and dance in a frenzy for hours, sometimes with the plus of an audience who are avid watchers and seeking shidduchim. If it is not progressive, then you get a chance to be play the role of a waiter by raising hands high and passing over to your neighbor the cholent and hot kugels during Chazaras Hashatz of Musaf.

If you are lucky you can become the person who gets the most attention in shul by being the Pied Piper Candy Man for the children at the expense of not being able to daven properly. If you are anti authority then you can act out by walking out in the middle of the Rav’s derasha or starting an early Maariv Minyan Motzei Shabbos in a shul that prohibits such an activity. If you possess an aggressive character you can act out by shaking and rattling the Tzedakah box at והעושר והכבוד מלפניך drawing everyone’s attention to you, ensuring that they realize you gave tzedakah. The fact that you feel compelled to perform this ritual every day having a monopoly over it, is nothing more than OCD.

The Shul Outlet has another form to release aggressiveness and that is on the occasion of an aufruf or now even for Bar Mitzvas. What was a pleasant sweet minhag in the past has now become mean and outright dangerous. How many times has one seen a meshuganah walk up to the chassan and with a pitcher windup throw a 25 mile an hour bag full of sweeties into his face while hallucinating that smashing his new Barsilino and breaking his nose is bringing simcha to him.

The individual who seeks the rush and thrill of a bidding war at an auction makes sure to be awake for the purchasing of aliyas and kibudim during the Yomim Naraim. if you daven in the Shteeble you can experience this “zacha lo” every Yom Tov although not as pricey as Maftir Yonah or pesicha for Ne’eelah.

For the haughty individual who wants to draw attention, Rosh Chodesh is the limelight for you. Even though Shmoneh Esrai only started 10 seconds ago, the race is on and you are ready to cross the finish line to be the first to gleefully scream outיעלה ויבוא  lest someone else besides you did not have kavvanah and might skip it. This heroism and self sacrifice on your part, comes after the fact that anyone who would miss Yaaleh Veyavoh also missed taking the cue before Shemoneh Esrai from the twenty or more so BB’s the acronym for Barrage Bangs on whatever surface available, shtenders, tables, bimah. This avalanche of noise is here to serve as a blank unspoken reminder for something these bangers expect you to figure out what you are to be reminded of. This ritual can become even more confusing when suddenly the barrage of banging becomes multiplied. It could mean merely that new Hockers joined the Klopper Club. Or it might mean something more serious by indicating that today is Rosh Chodesh Chanukah when there are more than one inserts to say in the Shemoneh Esrai. The only practical solution to this dilemma would be to observe the kloppers if they increased in number from the regular participants. If the number is the same then you know there is something to add during the Shemoneh Esrai, so you’d better figure it out sooner than later. On some occasions the Paul Revere Yaaleh Veyavoh announcer would view it as a personal hurt if someone at the end forgot to sayיעלה ויבוא  only because it was he who was also took the trouble to sound off those twenty or more clops before the Shemoneh Esrai.

All joking aside we all realize that this is not the purpose of a shul. A lifestyle of Torah without the consciousness of Hashem and the ongoing development of getting closer to Him is nothing other than a LIFESTALE, a life of stagnation. It is like omitting the name of Hashem from the entire derasha which is solely about Hashem. Such a person is in a LIFESTILL mode. One’s life ceases to flow but rather stands still if it is without Hashem. Such a life has fallen into LIFESTALL.

This is what the prophet Yeshaya admonishes Yisrael, stay clear from turning Torah into a lifestyle (29,13) “The people approach me with their mouths, and with their lips they honor me however their hearts are distant from me. Their fear of me is only from rote and habit. Rather serve me because אני ה’ is alive within you”.

With this interpretation the author answers a question from Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl (Vayikrah 26,11) I will dwell within you and I will not despise you. The difficulty in understanding this passuk is that prior to these words the Parsha of Bechukosai gives ascending berachos to those who fulfill Hashem’s mitzvos. If so why do we need reassurance that Hashem will not despise us when we are in such a good state? the same answer applies. This good state of spiritual conduct could be a result of mere habit and second nature. No one is thinking of Hashem and making a closer bond with Him by fulfilling the mitzvos and learning Torah. It can be compared to a body that performs rituals but is missing the neshamah. This is far from the desired state that Hashem wants. Nevertheless, Hashem reassures us that He will not despise us even if the conditions are such.

So if one lives even with a Torah and mitzvos “lifestyle” but leaves Hashem out of the daily picture, then one ends up with a LIFESTEAL. It is tantamount to stealing His life that was gifted to you when you don’t make Him an active part of it.

Gut Shabbos
Rav Brazil