Growing up in my parents’ home, there was only one thing that was permitted to be thrown inside the house — challah.
Each Friday night after the blessing on the bread, my father would break up parts of the challah and throw it around the table. He began with my mother, who became very adept at snagging her piece. Some memorable catches were executed, as well as some incomprehensible misses. But by that simple gesture we began each Shabbat meal in an atmosphere of joy.
Religious ritual is often solemn. Solemnity has its place. But simcha shel mitzvah — the sheer exhilaration of the mitzvot — can be the most potent of religious experiences. At the end of each Shabbat morning we bring the children up on the bima. They get to look out over the congregation, and the parents get to see their kids along with all the other children attending the service. Is it a little chaotic? At times. But it is joyful? Always.
Judaism is not only serious when it is straight-faced. Whenever I feel myself getting unnecessarily rigid, I just remember the mischievous twinkle in my father’s eyes during the windup before the Shabbos pitch.
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).