I had to rent a car for a day, and every time I forgot to fasten my seatbelt, a little bell rang over and over to remind me. The dashboard was illuminated with all kinds of symbols designed to inform me if something was amiss in the car’s performance.
Check your flashing signals!
How wonderful it would be, I thought, if a little warning bell rang every time a person spoke badly about someone else, or clicked on an erotic site on the Internet, or took a bite of unkosher food. Of course, the dashboard of a Jew is far more complicated than the dashboard of an auto. In fact, the control panel of a Jew more resembles the cockpit of a jet.
It isn't easy to be a Jew.
For a Jew to function at proper standards and levels, every minute detail of his or her behavior has to be in line with the guidelines of the Torah. What he eats; what he looks at; what he wears; what he hears; what he thinks; what he does; where he goes; when, how, and with whom he conducts his sexual relations. Everything.
Since we don’t have a dashboard to guide us, the dials and levels of our control panel are precisely recorded in the halachah – codes of Jewish Law.
If we are not living in the guidelines of halachah, our performance as Jews is bound to be off, and sooner or later, the system will crash.
In addition, our Sages established the proper aspirations and feelings that every Jew should have. They wrote them down in the order of our daily prayers. For instance, a Jew should feel happy when he wakes up in the morning, knowing that the new day brings another opportunity to serve the King of the World. A Jewish man should feel thankful that G-d made him a man and not a woman, who have a much harder time of things with having to bear and raise children, do all of the housework and cooking, and put up with a husband’s unceasing passions and demands.
The Sages established the order of prayer, three times a day, to serve as constant reminders, like seatbelt warning rings, to keep us pointed in the right direction. For instance, if a Jew isn’t yearning for redemption from the galut, for the ingathering of the exiles, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, he should hear a DING, DONG, DING ringing inside his brain.
Before reciting the morning’s “Shema Yisrael” prayer, we beseech G-d, “And shatter the yoke of the gentiles from over our necks, and speedily lead us with upright postures to our Land.”
"Shatter the yoke of the gentiles from about our necks and speedily bring us upright to our Land."
The Sages are reminding us that if we don’t feel the yoke of the gentiles over our necks in our exile existence, then something is out of whack with our Jewishness. If the exile seems pleasant in our eyes, and we imagine that we live there in freedom, then something is amiss with our proper Jewish sensitivities. In the exile, the Sages tell us, we are like broken people, bowed down to our foreign master, always trying to be a “an acceptable just-like-everybody-else Jew” to get along with the ruling landlords. In our hearts, we should be longing for true Jewish pride, which can only be achieved when we walk back upright to our own Jewish Land.
This understanding is emphasized in this week’s Torah portion, as it says regarding exile: “And the L-rd shall scatter you among the nations, and you shall be left few in number amongst the nations… and there you shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone” (Devarim, 4:27).
“Hey, we aren’t serving other gods!” I can hear you protesting. But Rashi explains that by serving the gentiles who serve other gods, it is like idol worship itself (See Rashi there). Our Sages inform us that the “wood and stone” of the verse refers to the Christians who bow down to wooden statues, and to the Moslems who bow to the big black rock in Mecca. In other words, living in the exile is living under the yoke of the gentiles, and a Jew should always feel an inner sense of not belonging and a compulsion to leave.
We are not supposed to recite our prayers by rote like parrots who don’t know what they are saying. We are supposed to internalize the words, and their messages, and act on them to the best of our ability.
DING DONG DING! DING DONG DING!