Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Overfamiliarity.”

 In our society, there exists a subdivision among religious Jews: a group of people who call themselves benei Torah (followers of the Torah).

In ostensible contrast to their merely “religious” counterparts, these people consider themselves truly devoted to the Torah in all seriousness.

The problem that this group experiences is the same problem that underlies the sin of Aaron’s sons – overfamiliarity.

These benei Torah do not pray only once a year when the spirit moves them.

They do not go to the synagogue only when there is a family tragedy; they go daily, three times a day.

They are occupied with the Torah constantly.

But because they are wrapped up in all this and live in the midst of all this, the danger arises that, little by little, they will become jaded by overfamiliarity.

After a while, these people do not and cannot feel the emotions that spiritual novices feel.

Why do our emotions run so high on the festivals and the Days of Awe?

Because they come once a year, and we do not become desensitized to them.

It is hard for a person to feel, three times a day, that he is standing before God. When someone who has never before been in a synagogue comes to visit, it sometimes happens that he is very moved by the experience.

But when one regularly comes and goes, it becomes part of one’s reality, part of one’s daily routine.

Someone once complained to me that despite his great interest in mysticism over the years, he always remained “on the outside” and never actually underwent any kind of mystical experience.

He added, “The only thing that I have from all that I did is that every time that I say ‘Shema Yisrael’, I feel a quiver.”

Now, this person is no rabbi, and is certainly not considered pious.

Yet how many truly pious Jews can say that every time they recite “Shema Yisrael,” they feel a quiver?

The reason this happens is that we are too near, too habituated; even the holiness of the recitation of Shema has become banal and mundane.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz