Many chasidic passages teach that true worship of God comes from inside oneself. Rabbi Bunim, commenting on a passage in the Talmud, said that if one wishes to be stringent solely because his father was stringent, he is not allowed to do so. Authenticity and not imitation is the standard of devotion.
If that is so, what do we do with the many teachings that are inheritances? Surely most of Judaism is what we learn from others, not what we arrive at ourselves.
First we must distinguish between commandments, which need not originate with oneself, and practices, which are outgrowths of those commandments. Rabbi Bunim spoke of special practices that each individual can cultivate for himself. But also, Judaism teaches us that observance seeps inward: We begin by doing something because we learned it, and end by doing it because it has become part of our life-pattern. As we grow into Torah, our authenticity takes the shape of the tradition, each with its own individual variation. Judaism is cast in the shape of the human soul; who we are and what we learn fuse into a Jewish lifestyle.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).