Act First

Friday, 4 November, 2022 - 2:12 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Sometimes you hear something that sounds so ridiculous that it sticks in your memory.

‘The only thing that I know I will do for the rest of my life, is check my Facebook account daily’.

Why do I think it is an unrealistic statement?

Well, for starters, who knows if Facebook will even be around for much longer. Will it still be popular in the future? Do you still remember how to operate a computer using DOS? Or a program called Lynx for browsing the web. Fax machines have come and gone. How many people still use ‘Hotmail’? I think you get my point.

But most importantly, regardless of whether that brand of technology will still be around or not, how could you propose to know how you will feel when you start ageing. Are you so sure that you will still care about what people are thinking about you? Would you really care as a wise elderly person, how many ‘likes’ you have on your FB page? Conversely, will you still be motivated to see what people are posting about themselves?

Maybe yes. But maybe no.

Let me change that statement slightly.

But radically.

‘I hope that the one thing I will do every day for the rest of my life, is put on Tefilin’

(except Shabbat and Chagim of course).

Or a slightly altered statement.

‘I hope that on every Friday for the rest of my life, I will kindle Shabbat candles’ .

You can ask the same question.

Will Tefillin be around forever?

And the same question I asked earlier. How do I know how I will feel about Tefilin as I age?

Same with Shabbat candles.

Will the practice continue to exist?

Well,  the New York Times thinks it will.

Rhona Lewis wrote an article about the meaning of lighting Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon before Shabbat comes in. I am sharing the following excerpt which I found fascinating:

Let us see to what extent candle-lighting has become associated with our nation.  On January 1, 2000, the New York Times ran a Millennium Edition. It was a special issue that featured three front pages. One had the news from January 1, 1900. The second was the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000. And then they had a third front page—projecting envisioned future events of January 1, 2100. This fictional page included things like a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba; a discussion as to whether robots should be allowed to vote; and so on. And in addition to the fascinating articles, there was one more thing. Down on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page was the candle-lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Reportedly, the production manager of the New York Times—an Irish Catholic—was asked about it. His answer was right on the mark. It speaks to the eternity of our people, and to the power of Jewish ritual. He said, “We don’t know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain—that in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbat candles.”

I can personally vouch for that story. By Divine Providence I met the marketing expert who had placed the Shabbat Candle lighting times for several years during the 1990’s. They were paid for by a Jewish philanthropist who was later unable to continue the expensive space on the front page of the NY Times. He had stopped paying for those lines by year 2000 but the NY Times included it in their millennial edition as the non-Jewish editor was quite sure that the Jewish people will continue to believe in G-d and His Torah and Mitzvot for eternity!

Can I be sure that doing Mitzvahs will be meaningful for me in the future?

I certainly hope so.

The greatest gift one can have in life is to be connected to G-d through observing his Mitzvot.

The reward of a Mitzvah is the actual connection formed by the fulfillment of the mitzvah. Click here for more on this.

But even if it is not meaningful to me.

As a Jew, I know that it truly doesn’t matter if these Mitzvahs will feel meaningful to me or not.

The main thing is that I physically observe them.

It wasn’t always that way.

You see, there are two ways to look at Jewish observance.

One is the bottom-up approach.

Here is how that process works.

First let me meditate and get inspired about connecting to G-d.

Then let me talk about it and discuss it with others.

Finally let me implement my inspiration by doing a deed that expresses my connection to G-d.

The other way is a top-down approach.

The breakdown goes as follows.

First let me do the action of the Mitzvah.

Let me then discuss and study about it.

And then let me meditate on it and make sure I connect deeply with its meaning and significance.

Close to four thousand years ago, Avraham, the first ‘Jew’, searched for G-d. He climbed the ladder in his quest for the truth.

Emerging from a society that was totally vested in the confusion and darkness of idolatry, he found G-d. He came to this realiztion by meditating on the logical imperative of the presence of a creator to this sophisticated and diverse universe. It couldn’t just have ‘happened’ he realized. There must be a Creator who designed it all.

From his meditation he moved to preaching to others about his newfound discovery.

After that, Hashem gave him the mitzvah and he did the action of circumcision.

With the formalization of the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai, Hashem gave instructions for the future of Judaism.

It was now going to be a reversal of Avraham’s journey.


First the deed.

Circumcision eight days after birth.

Then, fine tune your speech.

And follow that by aligning your mind and heart with your deeds and speech. Click here for more.

The Mitzvah action is most important. Understanding, inspiration and motivation can follow.

Therein lies the difference between those rituals that you do based on motivation and G-dly mandated Mitzvahs.

Checking your Facebook account is a result of a desire to connect socially. If you lose that desire, there is no reason or purpose to open your account.

Doing a Mitzvah deed is an instruction from the Almighty.

It makes absolutely no difference if you feel like it or you would rather snuggle inactive all day under your covers.

A Jewish boy becomes Bar Mitzvah and learns that he has joined a very special ‘club’. Something that please G-d he will do for the rest of his life. Hopefully he will ‘feel like it’ but even if not, never mind. When the sun rises, he knows that sometime before sunset he will be making every effort to lay Tefilin.

And the same notion applies to all of the other mitzvahs.

Take tzedakah for example.

Some causes make us feel motivated to be helpful.

A cute little child who needs food or medical attention. The heartstrings pull and the pocketbook opens naturally without much effort.

Sometimes, the person who is in need is irksome and irritating. He doesn’t engender and desire within us to help. Truthfully we would rather just walk away and ignore.

The Jewish way is to take action regardless of feeling.

It’s great to be in the mood to give. But what to do if you are not in the mood? It’s very simple. If objectively there is a need to help, then help should be given. Regardless of how you feel about it. If you are not sure, consult an unbiased third party to get an honest appraisal.

Doing without feeling seems a bit uninspiring.

Have no fear. Inspiration and elation will follow.

The G-dly (albeit counterintuitive) blessing in all this is, that once you do the action, Hashem makes sure that you get the inspiration. Usually right away, sometimes with a delay.

When in doubt?

When you are not motivated.

Don’t wait to get inspired.

Take the leap.

Do a Mitzvah.

The feeling will follow.

It always does.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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