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METAPHYSICAL FITNESS

by Daniel Lasar    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

One of my rabbis in Jerusalem related to our class a valuable anecdote. A guest at his Shabbat table who was exploring religion commented that he wanted to become more spiritual, but without being limited by the strictures of Judaism. The rabbi's four year-old son, Shmuel, replied, "If you want to climb a mountain, you need to have the right equipment!"

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One of my rabbis in Jerusalem related to our class a valuable anecdote. A guest at his Shabbat table who was exploring religion commented that he wanted to become more spiritual, but without being limited by the strictures of Judaism. The rabbi's four year-old son, Shmuel, replied, "If you want to climb a mountain, you need to have the right equipment!"

This week's Torah portion, Parshat Tetzaveh, dwells at length on the detailed preparations performed by the Kohanim (priests) to properly serve Hashem in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Special garments had to be worn and an inauguration rite was required before the actual service could begin. Why does it matter what they wore? Why was there such prerequisite procedure and attention to minutiae? Couldn't the Kohanim just have immediately engaged in their duties?

In Mesillas Yesharim, a classical ethical treatise by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, it is explained that our purpose in life is to strive to attain closeness to our Creator. The method for obtaining such an attachment is the performance of the mitzvot. Thus, following Hashem's 613-step program for success - the Torah - is the vehicle to properly serve Him.

Some people may think that they can ignore the Divinely prescribed regimen for achieving closeness to G-d and become instantly pious, simply by virtue of a spiritual attitude. There is, however, no such thing as "Microwave Judaism". No one becomes an expert at something without working at it. A skinny weakling, upon entering the gym for the first time, hardly expects to immediately pump 300-pound barbells. Instead, he builds himself up through constant training and incremental adjustments. It takes much time, effort, and equipment. No pain, no gain. Likewise, we must build up our spiritual muscles through unwavering observance of Hashem's mitzvot. How we dress and how we conduct ourselves creates within us a mindset that, over time, sensitizes us to our innate holiness and natural desire to connect with our Creator. An attachment to G-d is firmly internalized through years of engaging in the proper steps. It takes time to climb a mountain, one can't expect to leap right to the top.

This concept can be understood at an even simpler level. The Talmud states that when praying, one should enter the synagogue "at a distance of at least two doors" (Talmud Tractate Berachot 8a). Some interpret this to mean that one should not immediately jump into his prayers. Rather, he should enter inside the synagogue the amount of time to walk "a distance of at least two doors" - long enough to give him some time to settle his mind and prepare his thoughts for prayer (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 90:20). This short time period allows one to build himself up for reaching out to Hashem.

Thus, we can understand the importance of preparation. The procedures that the Kohanim had to follow teach us that one doesn't instantly become a servant of G-d simply because one feels that way. There is a long-term growth process that, over time, will enable one to truly be a spiritual person. It is through adhering to G-d's laws, in such matters as what we wear and how we act, that we will acquire this proficiency and sensitivity.

The rabbi's guest wanted to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Four year-old Shmuel taught him that's not reality. Nothing in the world comes for free; you've got to earn your portion. But don't be discouraged, Rabbi Akiva didn't start lifting weights until he was 40.

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Daniel Lasar, a graduate of Emory Law School in Atlanta, is currently studying at the Center for Torah Studies, at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

You are invited to read more Parshat Tetzaveh articles.

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