Jewish World Review August XX, 2003 / XX Menachem-Av, 5763

Holy ‘trivialities’

Some mock it as ‘pots and pans Judaism’ — the all-encompassing minutiae that forms the observant lifestyle. A leading Jewish thinker weighs in.

By Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo -- Judaism is a religion of holy trivialities. Commonplace deeds are the moments through which man has the opportunity to meet G-d more intensively than at any other instant.

Trivialities were created by G-d in order to show man that there are no insignificant moments and that man's every move, however small, counts.

It is G-d's opportunity to show man that He is concerned with every day of man's life and that every second counts. To meet G-d in the synagogue, or in a moment of devotion on Sabbath or Yom Kippur is not the ultimate goal. The goal is to discover G-d in the mundane, in a moment of boredom and turn these experiences around into an encounter with the holy.

To see holiness in the profane is the art. It is a divine gift whereby man receives the opportunity of feeling a great passion for G-d's world while being busy with the average — as if he hears great music behind the lack of a tune.

This is the great gift of the Halacha, Jewish Law.

As such, Halacha is a protest in which the trivial is redeemed through the adding of holy sparks onto the average.

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Because of its demanding voice to make every moment and deed holy, Halacha protects us from waiting for spontaneity. Nothing is more dangerous to religious life than just waiting for the moment of great religious fervor that often absents itself for long periods. Our souls would stay utterly silent for long periods if not for the Halacha creating a routine of wake up calls.

It teaches us an important lesson: It is not the goal but also the road to the goal that needs to be sanctified. We may not be able to reach our destination so fast but we must ensure that we are on the correct road.

Scientists dedicate their life to the smallest properties of animal life. They are fascinated with the properties of a cell, the habits of an insect or the peculiarities of the DNA code. It is the detail that fascinates them, not the general. So do the great Halachic authorities tremble over the smallest fractions of human life. They look for the properties of every human move and try to discover the divine breath in the smallest detail. Nothing is small enough to escape their attention. Just like many a cynic may consider the scientist to be guilty of self-torture when sitting for months behind his microscope watching a cell move, so the irreligious may not understand why the religious man will worry about which blessing is the appropriate one for a certain kind of food.

But for the scientist and the observant Jew this may very well be one of the greatest moments in their lives. The unraveling of a minor item and knowing how to respond to it and in that way turning the average and the common into a great encounter with the Infinite is one of the great privileges of mankind.

Only then is man able to claim that he really lives.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a world-renowned lecturer and ambassador for Judaism, the Jewish people, the State of Israel and Sephardic Heritage. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo