Routine. In nearly all of my education courses, they stressed the importance of routine and action. I have my morning routine: wake up, get breakfast and watch the weather, shower, get dressed, and go to school to set up my office for the day. Children learn best when they know the routine and what they will do each day. As teachers we start at the beginning of the year putting the schedule up on the board, making known to the students the expectations in the classroom. Before long, the morning ritual includes setting up their desks and getting out the needed supplies for the day. We are creatures of habit.
What makes these habits and routine so important is the purpose and meaning they add to our days. Without our morning ritual of saying “Bye, I love you” when we leave the house for work or drop off students at school, our day might feel incomplete. When a piece of our routine is missing, it has a noticeable effect.
When it comes to routine and ritual, the Torah has us covered. This week as we begin sefer Vayikra, the book of Leviticus, we find ourselves immersed in the listings of mitzvot (commandments) on how to live our lives. This begins with the explanation of the sacrifices that we are to give daily, weekly, and yearly. We learn that there can be a sacrifice made in times of joy and in times of sorrow. There is a special sacrifice for being guilty of a sin and others for complete thanksgiving. As sefer Vayikra continues, we learn about the laws of how to treat one another, how to engage in holy relationships, and how our calendar and meals should reflect our innermost values and desires.
While reading about our history in a book is helpful, the text teaches us that nothing can beat setting a routine and actively engaging with the world around us. The former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Ismar Schorsh, said “Ritual is a way of giving voice to ultimate values. Each of us needs a sense of holiness to navigate the relentless secularity of our lives.” The words of parshat Vayikra and those continuing throughout the Torah illustrate the fact that from our most basic origin in God’s image, we need routine and ritual. The Torah offers these in a way that brings meaning to otherwise mundane activities like eating and waking up.
When you go on a trip, you might use your GPS to know where you’re going. When you assemble a new bookshelf, the instructions can be a helpful guide. Each step is checked off the list, and when the trip or project is complete, you can feel a sense of accomplishment. Jewish ritual is meant to do just that for us. The Torah provides us with rituals to help keep our daily lives on track. To give us a blueprint for action during those times when it feels exceedingly difficult to approach God or people we might have wronged. And the Torah’s rituals, while set and defined, provide us with the opportunity and inspiration to create our own rituals to bring new meaning to our lives.
ללמוד To Learn: ללמד To Teach: לשמור To Keep: לעשות To Do: From the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed, we find ourselves engaged in ritual actions. Judaism helps us by framing our day with prayer and blessings. Did you know that it takes 12 seconds for the blood to flow properly from your head to the rest of your body when you stand up? If you do it too fast you’ll feel dizzy. There are 12 words in Modeh Ani, the first prayer we say upon waking. There are 12 words in the lines Shema and Baruch shem k’vod that we say as we lay down to sleep in the evening. Consider adding these or other Jewish rituals into your day.
מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ, מֶֽלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּם, שֶׁהֶחֱזַֽרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְּחֶמְלָה, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶֽךָ.
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, ה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ, ה אֶחָד.
בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.