One of my close friends has the following quote on her wall: “People say motivation doesn’t last; well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” Aside from the sharp wit that characterizes my friend, this worldview and general message highlights one of the most fundamental psychological and spiritual realities in existence. Particularly these days when we might struggle to implement routines and daily practices into the “new normal,” it has perhaps never been more important to emphasize the centrality of consistent, day-in, day-out practices to maintain our motivation and inspiration as human beings and as Jews.
In this week’s Parsha, Aharon is commanded regarding the lighting of the Menorah. The Pasuk (24:4) says, “al hamenorah hatehorah yaaroch es haneiros lifnei Hashem tamid,” on the pure Menorah he (the Kohen Gadol) shall arrange the lights before Hashem “tamid.” The word “Tamid” literally means “always”. Rashi notes that this does not mean that the lights must always be lit, as one might think based on the use of this word, but rather that the Kohen Gadol must light the Menorah every single night. Ramban explains further that the constancy of this Mitzvah is such that it overrides Shabbos, and that the Kohen Gadol must even light the Menorah when he is in a state of impurity.
Rav Wolbe explains that the consistent nightly lighting of the Menorah is just one example of the fundamentality of consistency, routine, and continuity to our Avodas Hashem. Just as the Menorah was lit continually regardless of circumstances, so each Jew must have a schedule, time set aside in his or her day for particular Mitzvos, be it learning, davening, or other deeds central to Jewish life and spiritual growth. In fact, the word “Masmid,” which is colloquially used to describe someone who is diligent in his learning, is derived from that same word, “tamid,” used to describe the lighting of the Menorah. No Jew can learn Torah constantly; rather, a Masmid is someone who sets aside routine time for Torah study, and one who makes this paramount in his daily life.
Psychologically, we rarely see results without repetition. Whether we are trying to remain motivated or inspired, or trying to change a habit or create a new one, repetition and ritual is one of the best and most effective methods of growth across all arenas of life. Sometimes, patients begin therapy anticipating and hoping for some critical changes in their lives, but quickly lose steam when faced with the reality of the consistent exertion that true change requires. Therapists often use different methods to help patients track and recognize change by highlighting the direct parallels between their daily efforts and behaviors and the incremental yet steady progress they are making. Maintaining inspiration is no different; the light must be lit daily in order to remain illuminated.
During this period of Sefirah, we mourn the loss of R’ Akiva’s students. Most interestingly, it was R’ Akiva himself who wholly emulated this idea of daily, routine, repetitive consistency as the key to growth. The Avos D’Rebbi Nosson describes the pivotal encounter that changed R’ Akiva’s life forever. When R’ Akiva was forty-years-old and not yet known as “Rabbi,” he passed a river and noticed the way that droplets of water had, over many years, managed to wear away a hole in a rock. R’ Akiva thought to himself, if these droplets of water, dripping onto the rock day-in, day-out, could eventually manage to penetrate the rock and leave it changed irreparably, so too the water of Torah learning can penetrate even my “old” and developed mind. It was with this in mind that Akiva set out to become the famous Rabbi Akiva, whose Torah learning entirely changed the face of Jewish history. R’ Akiva embodied this lesson of the importance of daily, routine study, and of making growth a consistent part of one’s life.
Though it is particularly challenging for many of us to find our footing in these difficult times, never has there been a time more ripe for growth and spiritual elevation. Though many of us find ourselves bereft of our “normal” schedules, hopefully by now we have managed to settle into a “new normal” set of routines. Torah Judaism allows us the unique opportunity to be enveloped in the security of daily ritual and consistency. Our morning begins with Modeh Ani, is structured around our three prayer services, and concludes with the recitation of Shema. Hopefully, even with the shifts and changes in our daily lives, we have managed to integrate some inspiration and learning into our days as well.
Whether you are receiving your inspiration in daily doses of WhatsApp shiurim or through planning your day around prayers or Torah study, there is always something small we can center our days around to increase the meaning and growth in our lives. During these weeks in particular, Sefiras HaOmer joins the ranks of daily rituals stabilizing and routinizing our day-to-day. This week, if you have not already, let’s commit to finding some daily Mitzvah or form of Torah study that can anchor us in the storm. After all, regardless of the chaos of the world both without and within, we light the Menorah daily. Let’s ensure that our inner light is likewise ignited daily.