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Areivim - Jewish Consciousness - Part One
by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck

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The Monsey-based Areivim Program, led by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck, who is a regular contributor to this website, does extraordinary work with teens at risk and is not affiliated in any way with any of the three Areivim life insurance programs.

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Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Jewish consciousness is a difficult concept to describe. It’s even more difficult to explain to other people that it’s an integral part of living a successfully Frum (orthodox) lifestyle. Jewish consciousness is a concept that you either “get” or you don’t. However, Jewish consciousness is essential to define who we are, to ourselves.

Without identifying ourselves as Frum individuals and not just a nation that does Frum activities, individuals will find it difficult, at best, to sustain true Frum lifestyles. They’ll begin by slightly slackening their performances. This pace will increase until they’re far removed from what they once were. Their children and grandchildren won’t appreciate that, years ago, the parents believed that their household would be a more religious one. They’ll look at their children, grandchildren and themselves, and see people that are different from what, years back, they thought they’d see.

What is Jewish consciousness? Jewish consciousness is an appreciation for living a Torah life that incorporates more than just a set of Halochos (laws). It’s about living a lifestyle that was handed down to us in the words of the Torah and given in more detail by our Chachomim (Rabbis). It appreciates that intangible and delicate concepts matter.

For instance, how important is it to Daven (pray) regularly in the same Shul and, within that Shul, to always have the same seat. How important is it to appreciate a Shabbos meal? How important is it to wear shoes while making Kiddush on Friday night?

None of these examples matter when discussed individually. There are many people, strongly committed to Frumkeit who don’t do all four of these examples; however, each example highlights a lack of value given to a Frum lifestyle. Each individual example, and there are hundreds of them, matters little. When accumulated within one person or family, they begin to collectively, truly define their commitments, or lack of commitments, to a Torah lifestyle.

An analogy may be to compare Jewish consciousness to rings on a chain. These rings, the Jewish consciousnesses, bridge the rest of the charms on the chain. Separately, the rings can’t hold anything or anyone together; however, when they’re connected, they can.

Think of an avid skier. Anything he sees reminds him of his hobby and he’ll jump at any opportunity to talk about skiing, watch others ski, or go skiing himself. Is there a connection between a person’s obsession to a sport and a desire to play it at every opportunity? Is there a connection between a partial interest in a sport and turning down opportunities to become more involved? I can’t explain why, but the connection is definitely there.

I often speak about hollow people. They seem to be doing fine, but inside there’s nothing. How long can people perform acts that, in their minds, offers them little in return? However, just as sports need an emotional connection, these people will consciously or subconsciously, give up many opportunities to perform Mitzvohs and other Jewish activities until, years later, they’ll find themselves, without their Frumkeit.

I’m not discussing sports but something that’s much, much, more important, a Torah lifestyle. It’s a part of who they are; their Jewish consciousness. Becoming alienated from one’s own Jewish consciousness breeds resentment towards others that feel this consciousness. This, in turn, further alienates them from a Frum lifestyle.

What is, and isn’t, a strong Jewish consciousness is difficult to discuss. Two people can have a coin collection. One person has hundreds of thousands of dollars of coins; the other has barely a few hundred dollars of coins. They may be equally involved in their hobby. The difference is that one collector is wealthy and the other isn’t.

People can wear colored shirts on Shabbos and be heavily involved in Shabbos. Considering their background and present excitement for Shabbos their involvement is intense and one can safely assume that their children’s involvement with Shabbos will be equal or greater than theirs. Contrast this with other Frum people who dress “the part” and attend a long drawn out Davening, but sleep and read newspapers on Shabbos afternoon, and who can’t be considered as being involved with Shabbos. How long will it take before their lack of passion will affect their Shabbos activities?

What can these people do if they find themselves missing their good feeling towards Yiddishkeit? It’s difficult to adjust an attitude by prescribing robotic behaviors. I have two thoughts to suggest to people who would like to increase their Jewish consciousness:

The first is to simplify your lives. We’re constantly running towards things we’d like to do with the belief that we “need” to do them. We rush through Davening because we need to go to our computers. We rush the buying of Lulovim because we need to talk to someone. Everything we do is left meaningless because we’re looking towards the next step in our schedule.

The second thought is to surround yourselves with people who have a passionate appreciation for a Torah lifestyle. Passion is contagious. Passion doesn’t necessarily mean an extreme zealousness. It can mean a commitment, and an appreciation, towards a Frum lifestyle.

I’d like to conclude with a personal insight. I sometimes find myself in a “Carlebach style” Minyan. There’s almost always a broad range of people Davening. Outsiders that look at the crowd may be critical of what they see. Some men wear jackets and some only shirts. A lot of the people walk around; some of them sing a little too loud and off key. Many of them aren’t able to sit in one place for too long. Many outsiders find that such a Davening isn’t something with which they’re comfortable. They may even look “down” at those Davening in such a Minyan.

But if you look a little closer at each of these people, you can see that they care deeply, and that their entire hearts are in their Davening. When Davening is finished they walk out feeling moved. People that experience a warm Davening find that they Daven better the next few times.

Passion can often come in atypical environments. It can mean Davening with an English translation in the Siddur, something most Yeshiva people would never even consider doing. It may mean inviting yourselves to other people’s Shabbos meals just to see how they enjoy it. All individuals must “figure out” what will work for them. What they should realize is that they’re missing something in their lives, and what they’re missing is something without which they “really” can’t live.

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