There is a tale about a rabbi whose synagogue was infested with mice. When the conventional method to get rid of them didn’t succeed, he turned to a fellow rabbi for advice. “Simple,” said his colleague, “give them a Bar Mitzvah and they won’t step foot in your synagogue again …”
Synagogue attendance is once again on our minds as we near the High Holidays. The typical American Jew shows up in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with a possible addition for Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
But even an unaffiliated Jew knows enough to point out that Jewish tradition and its observance spreads farther and wider than synagogue attendance. Judaism and its teachings and laws influence every aspect of our lives.
The question that we face, as we begin the new year, is what the impact of our faith will be on our lives, and by extension, our Jewish community. To borrow a concept from the French mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), is our Judaism solid or fluid?
Pascal’s Principle taught that there is a difference in how a solid and a liquid determine the pressure their weight exerts on the area beneath their surface. A solid cement beam, for example, will press downward only on the area beneath it. A fluid will equally distribute the weight of its pressure to every area it can reach. “Pressure applied to an enclosed fluid is transmitted undiminished to every portion of the fluid and the walls of the containing vessel,” his theory explains.
While the solid is static, the fluid spreads to all of the space in its container. The same can be said about how we practice our faith.
A “solid” practice of faith is one where you are set in your commitment, but concrete on your boundaries. It is when you wouldn’t want to be anywhere but the synagogue for Kol Nidre, yet wouldn’t consider stepping foot in the sanctuary on a random Shabbat. It is when you will drive every Sunday with a child for Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparation, yet leave Shabbat candles unlit on Friday night.
A “fluid” attitude to faith is one where your Jewish spirit infuses every aspect of your life. It is when you conduct yourself with honesty and dignity at work because that is a sanctification of G-d’s name. It is when a mezuzah graces your front door because that is how your Jewish home greets you. It is when you engage in Jewish experiences in your travels to remind you that G-d is there with you.
It is no surprise, then, that the sages of the Talmud compared the Torah not to a solid but to liquids (water, wine, milk, oil, honey, dew, and blood). Our faith should be fluid. It should spread out into all the things that we do and cover the foundation of our lives, giving weight to our faith. King Solomon (Proverbs 3:6) said, “In all your ways acknowledge Him.”
The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, a summary of Jewish law, specifies (31:1): “Even in those things that you do for your personal needs, you should acknowledge G-d … Eating, drinking, walking, sitting, lying down, getting up, coupling, and talking — all these physical needs should be done for the sake of serving your Creator, or for the sake of [doing] something that will be conducive to the service of Him.”
Perhaps this is another way to see the symbolic foods we eat on Rosh Hashana. They are continual and of unrestricted form. The challah is round, with no beginning or end. The apple is dipped in liquid honey and the pomegranate’s seeds are countless. May we be blessed for a happy and sweet new year and may our blessings — like our faith — flow like liquid.
Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin is outreach director of Chabad Tucson.