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OmerChallenge: Day 41

Today is forty-one days which are five weeks and six days in the Omer.
Hayom echad v-arba’im yom shehaym chamishah shavuot veshishah yamim la-omer.

Write about the first Jewish tradition you made a conscious decision to observe

When looking at mitzvot (and to a lesser extent customs and traditions that aren’t commandments, but carry the weight of ancestral history), Judaism often uses the phrase “Na’asei v’Nishma” – We will do, and we will understand. Spoken by the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai, it implies an attitude of “if you are told to jump, the only question is ‘how high’ “.

Give up bacon, lobster thermidor, and Jimmy Dean sausage? Cold turkey it is. Strap funny boxes to your arm and head? Sure thing. Walk two miles to synagogue because driving would be “work”? I’ll save money on gym memberships.

We aren’t required to understand the logical underpinnings of some commandments. In fact, it’s clear some commandments don’t have (at least to our frail mortal intellect) a logical explanation. We aren’t required to agree with them either. We’re just asked to do them, with the hope/belief that understanding will follow “someday”.

But between the Nike-esque philosophy to “Just Do It” and the zen-like moment when understanding strikes like lightning, there falls intention.

In Judaism, intention – what you have in your heart/mind when you perform a mitzvah – means a lot. Lighting candles on Friday night officially starts the Sabbath. But a person can light candles with a clear intention that they are not “taking on” the Sabbath just yet. There’s more to do. As long as it’s not sundown, that person can continue to behave as if Shabbat hasn’t started yet.

In many situations, everyone is required to say their own blessings – over bread and wine, while praying at synagogue, etc. But if the leader has as his clear intention that he is saying those blessings on behalf of the others present in the room; and the people in the room listen with the clear intent that they are allowing the leader to speak the blessings for them, then Judaism considers that equivalent to each person saying it for themselves.

Taken in that light, I see a big difference between looking at a custom or tradition or mitzvah and saying “let me give that a try” and performing it with the clear intent to “take it on” as a personal habit. The first is dipping your toe in the water. The second is not just allowing yourself to be dropped in the middle of the ocean, but to do so with the knowledge that you actively aren’t going to ever swim to shore to take a rest. You are committing to being immersed in that mitzvah for the rest of your life.

So which was the first tradition I committed myself to at that level? The thing that I said “this is what the rest of my life will include”?

As the childhood rhyme goes, “first comes love, then comes marriage…”

Under the chupah, surrounded by clergy, family and friends, saying the ancient phrases of the Jewish tradition which have nothing to do with the modern civil aspect of unions today – in that moment I accepted that the intelligent, talented (and yes, beautiful) woman standing beside me was my Kallah – my intended, beloved bride, and that I was forever her Chatan, her bridegroom.

The rest, as Rabbi Hillel once said, is merely commentary.

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