Right (of) Passage

ONE QUESTION THAT OFTEN COMES up during Torah study, especially the portions that concern the seemingly over-described sacrifices and Tabernacle (portable wilderness G?d-tent) and its holy furniture, is, “Does G?d really care about all these details?”

One answer: “Who knows? But we care.”

What do Jews do when it comes time to experience pivotal life-events? We talk to a rabbi (or at least someone knowledgeable). According to Jewish law and custom, there is an ancient and proper way to do anything whether birth, education, adulthood-attainment, marriage, divorce, illness, or burial and mourning. It doesn’t matter how non-observant the querent is — they always want to know what to do, and how to do it right. There’s something to be said for carrying out millennia-old marching orders; it’s comforting to know that we’re taking part in something larger than ourselves — that in the midst of chaotic isolation, we belong in some way to That which surrounds us.

How many times has someone started a conversation with, “I’m not religious, but I’m wondering — how do I…?” light Shabbat candles? Plan a bar mitzvah? Hold a funeral? After the initial discomfort wears off, people feel grateful for an answer. Connected. In tune with the Divine, or at least with a People. After all, that’s what religion can do — give a structure to the spiritual life-experience common to us all.

So that’s why the details matter. Think of it as stepping into the footprints of those who came before, and deepening them for those who will follow after. It doesn’t matter if we miss one or two — only that we keep on walking.

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