There is a well known “aggadic passage” in which various sages put forward their idea of klal gadol ba-Torah, “the great principles of the Torah”. Among the list are, “Love your neighbour as yourself”, as well a verse which we are all familiar with taken from the Shema, namely, “Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
The verse which I find most striking however, is a passage by Ben Pazzi who suggests that the most embracing principle of the Torah is a verse from (Ex. 29:39) which reads, “One sheep shall be offered in the morning, and a second in the afternoon” or, as we might say nowadays, prayer, (Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv). The meaning of Ben Pazzi’s statement is clear: all the high ideals in the world count for little until they are turned into habits of action that become habits of the heart.
We can all recall moments of insight when we had a great idea, a transformative thought, the glimpse of a project that could change our lives. A day, a week or a year later the thought has been forgotten or become a distant memory, at best a might-have-been. The people who change the world, whether in small or epic ways, are those who turn peak experiences into daily routines, who know that the details matter, and who have developed the discipline of hard work, sustained over time. The great recently acclaimed heavy weight champion Anthony Joshua, did not achieve his greatness without the routine of his sustained efforts and daily training.
Similarly, we can only understand Judaism by doing it and by performing the commands. At the moment of revelation, we declared, na’aseh venishma, “We will do and eventually, through extended practice and long exposure, we will understand.”
The modern Western mind seeks to understand what we are committing ourselves to before making the commitment. Judaism and the holiday of Shavuot which ensures our ultimate freedom, can only be achieved if we plunge in and have the courage to take the risk of living the Jewish life.