God: treating Him with respect
Why did I leave a chapter about God until the end? It hardly seems respectful. Well would you have read this far had I started everything off with that topic? That’s what I thought.
But we really can’t delay it any longer. All this talk of responsibility, morality, Torah, and mitzvos…we can’t let that distract us from the source of it all: the One Who created and sustains us.
The segula tragedy
Who runs the world? If God’s in charge then it makes sense to trust Him to give us everything we need, whenever we’ll need it. After all, He knows us and our needs better than we do, and He’s got the power to deliver.
If it’s all set, then why daven? Because davening is a mitzva (רמב"ם תפלה א:א). And also because there’s so much to learn about the way God runs His world from the words of the siddur. Ultimately, though, we’re best off leaving our fate in His wise hands.
But the last few centuries have witnessed the growth of an alternate approach. Some have come to believe that performing the right actions and saying the right words can force God to give you the things you want. The idea is that, built into the fabric of the universe are hard rules that can be exploited.
Thus, it would seem, gathering large numbers of women in a room where they knead dough together, make a bracha, and separate challah is somehow guaranteed to evoke some positive effect.
There’s certainly no mesorah for challah taking gatherings: such things were entirely unheard of even a decade or two ago. And it’s not like taking challa under these conditions - particularly outside Eretz Yisrael - is all that much of mitzva: our dough is טמאה, the חלה itself is burned rather than given to a kohen, and we’re usually talking about עסה העשויה ליחלק (so its highly debatable whether it’s even appropriate to make a ברכה).
Why, then, do people do it? I can only imagine that they feel there’s some mystical power associated with their actions and thoughts that somehow “flips a switch” in the heavens, forcing down bracha and overriding God’s will.
This “flip a switch” attitude is everywhere these days. If we’re honest we’ll admit that we’re all guilty of it at least sometimes. Haven’t you rushed through parts of davening under the pressure of time? Why not, instead, follow the words of שלחן ערוך אורח חיים א:ד “Fewer prayers with concentration are better than many prayers without” If you don’t have the time, wouldn’t it, therefore, be better to focus more on the core sections and skip the rest? Why cram it in?
Because, deep down, you believe there’s some mystical value in saying - or even just mumbling - all the words, thereby flipping the switch and overriding God’s will.
Haven’t you felt a sense of satisfaction while removing your tefilin after davening - even while realizing that you didn’t actually think about what’s written in their parshiyos and how that’s supposed to change you? Wouldn’t it make more sense to feel terrible about the wasted opportunity?
Deep down, you believe there’s some mystical value in wearing the tefilin even while ignoring them. Switches are being flipped.
In fact, I don’t believe you’ll find any source in Chazal or rishonim that suggests there’s an intrinsic “switch flipping” value to mitzva performance. Their conversations on the topic all seem to agree with the midrash: לא נתנו המצות אלא לצרף בהם את הבריות.
Or, in other words, what you take out depends on what you put in. And it has nothing to do with getting stuff from God.
What’s responsible for this violent change to the way we look at our mitzvos? That’s a discussion for another day. Our immediate job is to perform God’s mitzvos because God told us to and imbue them with value by absorbing their lessons. Leave our temporal fate in His capable and loving hands.
Yiras shomayim is the real goal (קהלת יב:יג). I can’t walk away from these chapters without at least mentioning it. But it’s something I don’t think I’m qualified to discuss. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s something that’s already fully addressed in תנ"ך חז"ל ובספרי מוסר. What can I say that would add any value?
So this is where I stop. From here on in it’s up to you.
Rise to the challenge and become great.