Prayer shawl - Tallit Jewish religious symbol and Jewish Prayer
Prayer shawl - Tallit Jewish religious symbol and Jewish Prayer

A Meaningful Belief

In the Book of Deuteronomy 28:47, the Torah describes the consequences that His people will face if they don’t keep the commandments and in doing so, stresses, “because you did not serve HaShem, your God, with gladness and with goodness of heart.” From here we learn the incredible importance of serving HaShem with happiness.

But you may ask yourself, “Why is it that if I do what He says, it’s not good enough? Why must I also do it with a happy and open heart?” The answer is awe-inspiring.

Parshat Ki Tavo: Deuteronomy
26:1-29:8; Isaiah 60:1-22.

I had the mother of a student of mine ask me, “What’s the deal with my child wanting to keep the holiday of Passover for two days and not going to classes on Passover?” My response was to ask her whether there was a holiday she felt was important enough for her child to miss school. She responded “Yes, Rosh Hashanah.” So I answered her with another question as any good Jewish rabbi would do. Where is the source that states that Rosh Hashanah is more important than Passover … or Succot or even Shavuot?

We can learn from an example of a person who realizes the need to start exercising in order to stay fit. So one day he announces to his family that he has firmly resolved to go to the gym twice a year and that his workout on these two occasions will be so intense that he will remain strong and healthy for the rest of year. But then he has a medical issue and sees a physician who points out his poor health, partly as a result of not doing exercise. The man exclaims, “But I go to the gym twice a year and have the two most intensive workouts possible! Shouldn’t that be enough to carry me through the whole year? How could I possibly be unhealthy?”

As an Orthodox campus rabbi for non-Orthodox students for over a decade, what I find most alarming is how so many of these students have a warped version of Judaism where they think that Judaism is a once- or maybe twice-a-year check-in with God. They convince themselves that hearing a cantor sing prayers will keep them “on His good side” or something to that effect. Some of these students will actually make the effort to listen to a moving sermon, but any inspiration quickly fades away with not one single thought translating into action.

Why has Judaism shifted to the High Holidays as the central part of a Jew’s life, making it seem that such a life is boring and pointless? What happened to being a Jew at home or when walking down the street? Why are Jews more open to every other religion on the planet than their own?

When you make Judaism exciting and show your enthusiasm about keeping the Torah and mitzvot, kids pick up on that attitude and automatically feel excited and want to be involved as well. My kids and all of their friends love Shabbos … they love the holidays; they love HaShem, and they love all 613 ways to connect to Him.

Let’s bring the joy and the simchah back. Let’s bring Judaism back into our homes and onto the streets. With baby steps, we can do it.


Rafael “Fully“ Eisenberger is director of the Jewish Resource Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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