routine awareness

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-tefillinThe phrase, “creatures of habit,” is not infrequently used to describe us human beings. This is not surprising given our social/cultural norms and natural makeup. Religious ritual is often seen as a reflection of our habitual nature.

Say this, bow here, stand there, turn over there, don’t eat on this date, eat a lot on this date, etc. Since we are likely to develop habits whether we like or not, I consider it a good thing to choose good habits and routines. It is better to be in the habit of working regularly, exercising regularly, and showering regularly than to be stealing habitually, abusing alcohol, and/or getting angry regularly.


A difficulty arises when we face the fact that religious ritual is meant to both habituate our lives to a holy routine as well as make us more sensitive to, and aware of God. I’m certain many of us have found ourselves driving to work and all of the sudden find ourselves having arrived without any real sense of having thought much about what we did to get from home to the work site! There are certain things we just do on auto-pilot. Our religious rituals sometimes, unfortunately, fall into the “auto-pilot” category. So how do we work that out?

The middah of awareness is both produced by, and useful to produce authentic religious ritual. The more I bless God before and after every meal, the more likely I am to be aware that all things come from God’s goodness. On the other hand, if I’m just going through the motions I can make a conscious decision to exercise my awareness muscles to focus on the words I am saying, and then I am once again back to being more aware of God’s goodness. A healthy ritual life is one that is characterized by using the religious routine to build awareness, and then using that same awareness to recharge the routine after it becomes rote. This is an ongoing cycle, but one that produces greater awareness on the whole. May we use this week to get in the habit of doing those things that make us more aware of God, and also consciously push ourselves to become more aware in the things that have become overly rote; it’s a rewarding cycle…let’s take this for a spin!

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