To be steadfast, to hold firm to a belief or action, is a valuable middah. Consider how the Torah laws for the conduct of Cohanim, per involvement in funerals, and for the conduct of Nezirim, per haircuts, have endured not just for weeks, not just for years, not just for decades, and not just for centuries, but for millennia. In contrast, secular “rulings” for fashion and for social dealings remain everchanging. Weigh, for example, that “[s]o much of the nonsense going on in the USA, right now, is performative, not productive” (Dawson). Basically, humanity’s experienced how importance retains resolve whereas superficiality has merely attested to quick, even unexpected, changes. The Truth that is Torah lives on.
Second, our Torah life centers on steadfastness, on allegiance to the Aibishter. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks elaborates on the benefits of actualizing this obligation in I Believe. “What makes a life satisfying is not external but internal, a sense of purpose, mission, being called, summoned, of stating something that would be considered by those who came after” (Sacks, 31). That is, in choosing attentiveness to Torah’s strictures, we make our lives rewarding. Rabbi Shlomo Katz further reinforces this valuation in “Becoming a Spiritual Warrior Post Simchas Torah.” “Making a move toward Hashem is always the right thing and is always the holiest thing I can do at the moment regardless of how much I can see or can’t see and that truth is so hard to accept” (Katz).
Said differently, adherence to Torah’s parameters gives our lives consequence. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto writes, in The Path of the Just, that we ought to
[o]bserve that matters of piety and fear and love [of G-d], and purity of heart are not things innately implanted in a person whereby he would not need means to acquire them such as sleep and wakefulness, hunger and satiation, and all the other responses naturally implanted in our nature. Rather, certainly it is necessary to employ means and strategies to acquire them (Luzzatto).
To accomplish these ends, explains Rabbi Mordecai Kornfeld, in “Mesilat Yesharim/Path of the Just,” we must begin with fairly regular activities such as
study and compliance [which will, in turn, lead] to scrupulous care not to violate any religious law. The next step is constant diligence to obey every commandment, and then to live a completely clean life, both in thought and in deed. One then reaches a level where he avoids even permissible things when they can possibly lead to wrong, and once this is accomplished, he can purify himself of all evil, past and present.
The individual is then ready to live a life of piety, dedicating himself to G-d far beyond the call of law, and this leads to humility, the negation of the ego. A person can then gain such a clear perception of good that he literally dreads sin, being totally aware of the banality of evil. He is then ready for the highest of these ten steps, holiness, the total negation of the physical.
The very next level is that of Ruach HaKodesh. These ten steps thus provide a program of discipline for the individual who wishes to achieve true enlightenment (Kornfield).
Meaning, eventually, via small steps, we can transform ourselves into guardians of Torah. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman shares a Baal Shem Tov parable about this makeover;
As the people who journeyed to the palace were distracted by the attractions along the way, so we all have our distractions in life. For some, it’s the marketplace in the big city. For others, it’s the garden of the heart. For others, the palace of the mind.
But if we could strip ourselves of all distractions, we would bare a simple and singular desire—to be one with our beloved King, Master of Heaven and Earth.
And if we can do so, heaven and earth, as well, are ours (Freeman).
Interestingly, although the pinnacle of living is serving Hashem, with the exception of specific moments, such as when Har Sinai was suspended over Am Yisrael, HaKadosh Baruch Hu does not push us to embrace His authority. He might urge us, but He doesn’t, ordinarily, pressure us. He’s very much a parent to us in the same way that we bring up our own children. To illustrate, if one of our offspring refused nourishment, we might have allowed their hunger to shepherd them to a better choice. Analogously, Hashem sets aside the after-effects of our acts of misdirection to propel us back to Him. Our return to observance, during crises, is one such occurrence of these “natural consequences.” Our renewal of our fidelity to Him, after experiencing lifetimes highs, such as getting married or such as becoming parents, is another.
Yet, even during those rare times when The Boss more tacitly marshals us, He gives us latitude. Unlike celestial beings, who are stagnant, who cannot grow, we can improve our focus on Hashem’s will; we can ameliorate our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. It’s up to us to elect to do so. A case in point is given by R. L. Adler, in “Echoes of a Deeper Commitment. She writes that when she “first began to really learn about Judaism, [she] thought that everything that was interesting was masculine. With Heaven’s help, [she] discovered … the role of Jewesses” (Adler, 64). That is, her loyalty to the path of Torah facilitated her realization of women’s significance in Torah Judaism.
Further, every mitzvah has worth. Nonetheless, that merit, ultimately, is indeterminable by humans. We’d err to claim that one piece of observance is more cherished than another. Think over the fact that our holidays belong to all Jews and that even “radically secular” members of Am Yisrael light menorahs on Chanukah and conduct Pesach Seders. What’s more even supposing Israeli musicians and scientists tend to have Russian roots and Israeli entrepreneurs and computer scientists tend to hail from the United States (yes, I’m stereotyping), we diverse people daven together of our own accord without judging each other’s sources of parnassah or each other’s relative level of kashrut. Repeatedly, we’ve reminded that accepting The Almighty’s directives do not turn us into automatons, but into empowered followers who are given the leeway to be imperfect in our usefulness to Him. We ought not to try to measure comparative adherence to halacha.
We are given margin to heed His guidelines inadequately. We are required, anyway, to be committed. “You can’t be flimsy when it comes to being a servant of Hashem…You can’t be something that blows in the wind. You can’t be something that gets startled and then changes all of your thoughts and all of your opinions” (Katz) We are urged, too, despite the glitter and glam offered by the kelipot, the husk, of worldly trappings, to be staunch consistent in our striving to follow our faith.
Adler, R. L. “Echoes of a Deeper Commitment.” Ed. L. Schreiber. Hide and Seek: Jewesses and Hair Covering. Urim, 2003, 59-64.
Dawson, Julie Anne. “November 2023 Sales Report.” Received by KJ Hannah Greenberg. 17 Nov. 2023.
Freeman, Rabbi Tzvi. “The Pauper’s Request.” Chabad.org. chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4399578/jewish/The-Paupers-Request. Accessed 21 Dec. 2023.
Katz, Rabbi Shlomo. “Becoming a Spiritual Warrior Post Simchas Torah,” YouTube. 17 Dec. 2023.youtube.com/watch?v= WNz9Eu30QCo. Accessed 22 Dec. 2023.
Kornfeld, Rav Mordecai. Rosh Kollel. “Mesilat Yesharim /Path of the Just.” The Internet Center for the Study of Talmud. Kollel Iyun Hadaf, dafyomireview.com/mesilat.php?d=2. Accessed 13 Nov. 2022.
Luzzatto, Rabbi Moshe Chaim. Yoseph Leibler. Trans. The Path of the Just. Torah Classics Library. Feldheim, 2004.
Sacks, Rabbi Jonathan. “Hayei Sara: To Have a Why.” I Believe. Maggid Books, 2022. 27-31.