Monday, January 8, 2007

Why have limitations and restrictions?

My wife and I have often discussed the idea of why anything worthwhile seems to be filled with restrictions and rules. Why does a haiku have to have exactly 17 sylables? Why can you only touch the ball with your feet in soccer? Why can you only hit the ball inside the foul lines in baseball? Why, l'havdil, do we have so many extra restrictions on Pesach of all holidays, when that's the time we celebrate freedom!? We should celebrate by having less restrictions!

My wife reminded me today that all good things come with restrictions. Even though a runner could probably round more bases if he hit the ball into the stands and therefore further from the opposing players, they don't do that. Greatness only comes when one is given certain limitations he has to work within. It is only then that he has to work extra hard and become extra skilled to succeed dispite those limitations. If you could do whatever you want, then it wouldn't take any skill to accomplish something. If you could win at baseball by doing whatever you felt like, it would be too easy to win, and there would be no point in the game. The whole point is that the difficulty imposed by the rules brings out the greatness of the player.

It's the same thing with spirituality. If you could by religious and spiritual by doing whatever you want, then it would be so easy that it would be meaningless. It's only because we're challenged to become great in learning, davening, Shabbos, Yomim Tovim, chesed within the restrictions in the way that one observes those things, that we have the capacity to be great in doing them.

When I went to youth conclaves in high school with the reform Jewish youth group, NFTY, we read Shel Silverstein poems, played guitar on Shabbat, sang Peter, Paul, and Mary songs, and rubbed our hands together to show each other warmth. All of these things made us feel very spiritual. But since whatever we felt like doing at any moment, we could define as spiritual, nothing was truly spiritual. It may have been a lot of fun, and it provided a great time between friends, but it wasn't spiritual.

Spirituality means playing the same song our grandparents and great-grandparents gave to us, but bringing our own love, spiritual gifts, and inflection to that music. It's like the difference between a musician playing Beethoven with the unique soul that he brings to it using his talent and practice on one hand, and a child banging on the piano, on the other.

May we merit that our davening, and service of Hashem through halacha shine with greatness!

-Dixie Yid

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