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My Rituals and I

BS”D

 

As I’ve told earlier, I work (volunteering) as a writer on a Danish web-portal, Religion.dk. The last article I was asked to write, was about my view on rituals.

Since I wrote the article, I have been thinking about it, mostly because I wasn’t very satisfied with it, but also about how I view and understand rituals in general. It’s like the thought doesn’t want to leave my mind. So I though that I wanted to reflect a little more on it, sharing my thoughts with you.

 

As you all know I’m a Jew, a religious one of the kind, and rituals play a huge part of my religion, from I get up in the morning to going to sleep in the evening (or night), whether we talk prayers, studies or something else. My first action when waking, is a ritual, giving thanks to G-D for letting my soul return to my body (according to Jewish belief that the soul leaves the body during sleep, having sleep being on sixtieth of death). Wakening can be considered a miracle and a chance for making a better life.

After waking up I wash my hand. Well, washing sounds a little simplified, I perform a ritual washing of hands, since I don’t know where I’ve put my hands during sleep (hmm). After that giving thanks for having a body that works as it’s supposed to, then blessing the “returner of souls,” putting on the Tzitzit (also with a blessing), blessing the commandment of studying Torah, as well as blessing the One giving us the Torah, establishing peace, reminding myself, and whoever listen, of the things we don’t have limits on doing, such as the study of Torah, doing good deeds and so on, reminding myself of things I have to do in this life, but for which I receive the “payment” in the World to Come, then going on to the prayer, putting on the Tallit and the Tefillin, and then the morning prayer.

Does it sound of a lot to do? This is just the first fifteen minute to half hour. Of course, the morning prayer, Shaharit, makes it even longer. My day is one long ritual.

This might most likely seem overwhelming for he or she, who isn’t used to such a structured day, and at first it was so too for me, but it is something you will get used to, making it a practice, a habit. And here lies the danger, that it becomes just that, a habit. The thing is, actions without thoughts are empty actions, like a body without a soul. What is your prayer worth, if your thoughts are dealing with everything else besides directing your focus to Him, Who you’re praying to?

 

The truth is that I appreciate the rituals, whether I say a blessing over a piece of chocolate or prepare myself for the prayer, it gives me a sense of structure, sense of the day, a pulse. But I also fear the rituals, for they can become habits, and if they become so, they become meaningless, even worse than that, a mockery. I sincerely believe that G-D wants us to live, to reflect, to perceive, but doing without thinking about what you’re doing, is doing the opposite of these things, doing an act without reflecting, being aware of it, is like making a body without life. That’s why my rituals are not only actions, done in order to make my life reflect my religion, but also being a provocation to reflection, whether tying my laces or relating to another human being (or just being in general).


11 Comments

  1. Michael Kay says:

    Hi, a very thoughtful post. I’ve been considering the nature of ritual vs. habitual action myself recently, did you see my blog article?

    http://michaelakay.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/the-right-rites-the-role-of-ritual-in-society-and-self/

    Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    • qolyehudi says:

      I’ll check it tomorrow, bli neder, if it’s okay. I should be writing on my assignments right now;o)

    • qolyehudi says:

      Hi Michael

      I already read the post, even recommended it on my Facebook-page:o).

      It’s a good and very interesting post. I remember that we talked about the circular processing narrative during a course in Philosophy once in relation to the perception of time. It’s an interesting subject actually, how we perceive time and how that is influenced by our cultures.

      • Michael Kay says:

        Thanks! I certainly enjoy the structure Jewish rituals bring to a day and the meaning and continuity they bring to life in general, and it appears you do too. I appreciate that not everyone feels the same, but I feel there are certainly advantages in these formalised activities. I would be interested to hear more about the cultural aspects of the perception of time which you mention; maybe another blog post? πŸ™‚

  2. Marianne says:

    Thanks for the great article.

  3. ADE_Aurelija says:

    I have heard the idea you expressed( “actions without thoughts are empty actions, like a body without a soul”) and I find it so familiar. Yet, I was wondering. What if the thoughts are not bringing any good? Or what if the thoughts “feel” good but aren’t in a sense that they are selfish? What about short-term selfishness that leads to long-term good deed possibility? Is it worth it? I know, I might be getting away from the rituals…But I think at the very least, I got inspired for a blog post. Thank you:)

    • qolyehudi says:

      Hi Aurelija, and thanks for comment and like:o)

      Saw that you’re going to study in Copenhagen. Hope you’ll like it, it’s a beautiful city, but the Danes there can be a little, well, hard to get close to.

      Your question is interesting and somewhat challenging. First of, as I wrote a little about in my post “Wondering,” what do we mean when we say “good”? Is it, for example, not “good” to be selfish? Of course, the two of us would probably agree that selfishness is bad, but what if we had a society, where the focus on yourself first, would secure your survival?
      That aside, I’m not that focused on the “good” or “bad” in regards to the thought, that is defined by the action, and the value of the action is again defined by the view of the ethical system, which decides on “good” and “bad,” here being Judaism. My focus is more on the being aware on what you’re doing. I wrote about it in my post “Going Conscious,” https://ajewishvoice.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/123/ , but what I’m thinking when you ask about the “bad” in this relation, is that if we merely do what we’re told, without reflecting on it, then it does indeed become “bad.”

      Besides that. In Judaism we have the concept of “Yetzer haTov” and “Yetzer haRa'” – the Good Inclination and the Bad/Evil Inclination. It’s the dual concept of humanity, we all have both a good and a bad side. Sometimes we listen more to the good side, other times more to the bad. But what I find interesting is that there is the thought that even the bad side can be used for the good. For example, imagine you have two guys always competing about being the best. Obvious, this is most likely based in a feeling of vanity, but if that feeling of vanity, that need to be “the best” is directed in a positive direction, for example in giving most charity, then yes, they are relating to their “Yetzer haRa'”, but they are turning it to something positive. Of course, the best and most praiseworthy would be that they gave charity from a pure heart, obviously, but the charity still helps, whether it is from a bad motive or a good motive.

      Nothing is black and white.

      And I’m glad that I could inspire you:o)

      All the best

      • ADE_Aurelija says:

        Oh, I’ve been in Copenhagen for over 2 and half years, so I’ve noticed – that Danes are not the easiest people to befriend, but I’m still here, so I guess it’s not as bad.
        I will read the other post later as I am attempting to study tonight. But thank you for a detailed answer-seems like I get your point even better now.πŸ™‚

  4. Yacoob says:

    Hello again

    There are definite parallels I see in what you describe and in my own life –in the Islamic way of life. Muslims have the same understanding of sleep – that our souls are taken away when we sleep – and when we wake up, one of our prayers is to thank God for ‘giving us life after we were dead’ – because sleep is considered a minor form of death.

    Also the washing of hands – interesting that you used those words. That’s pretty much the same idea put forward in one of the Islamic hadiths – which reportedly says that the first thing you should do when you get up (after your prayer, mentioned above) is to wash your hands – because “you do not know where your hands have spent the night” (i.e. what you touched).

    And as you probably know, we have a specific form of washing we perform before prayer; and then the morning prayer itself. And saying a blessing before doing even the most mundane thing – like eating chocolate. Again – all parallels between Islam and Judaism.

    Anyway – I can relate to the structure you have; the numerous rituals throughout the day. And for someone not used to that kind of discipline, and without that kind of commitment to their faith, it really is hard to understand WHY a person would do that – do so much.

    But rituals are not empty actions – there’s meaning behind each, and each brings you closer to your Creator. And the self-discipline of maintaining these rituals – each day for your whole life – should also help you to have self-discipline in other areas of your life (at least that’s what my father tells me, when trying to get me to be more organized in lifeπŸ˜‰

    The danger of losing that meaning through habit, though, is very real – for me too. It’s a huge struggle to remember WHY you’re doing it, and to actually remember WHO you’re directing these forms of worship towards. In Islam, concentration in prayer (called ‘khushoo’) is a very big challenge for many of us – and just like you say your thoughts drift, it’s the same with me.

    It’s really a struggle to maintain focus – but one that is absolutely essential. We’re taught to exemplify ‘ihsaan’ – which is a kind of ‘excellence’; and to explain that concept, our Prophet (peace be upon him) reportedly said that it means: ‘to worship God as if you see Him; and if you can’t, know that He sees you.’ Which basically means to have a high level of God-consciousness (called ‘taqwa’) – that you’re always aware that God sees you. And this should motivate you to always try to be at your best in His sight.

    All the best on your struggles. It’s difficult, but nothing worthwhile comes easyπŸ™‚

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