T

oras Kohanim (the midrash on Sefer Vayikra) records a machlokes between Rabi Akiva and Ben Azai as to what is the “klal gadol b’Torah.” Rabi Akiva says, “Ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha” (Vayikra 19:18), and Ben Azai quotes the verse, “Zeh sefer toldos adam” (Bereishis 5:1). The Malbim explains that the machlokes as to which is a more encompassing “great rule” is really one about how to achieve love of one’s fellow man.

For Rabi Akiva, the answer lies in seeking for one’s fellow Jew everything that one would want for oneself through concrete deeds on his behalf. Ben Azai, however, advocated a more philosophical approach: Recognize that all souls are joined as one body by virtue of the fact that each was created b’tzelem Elokim. As expressions of the Divine, they are all limbs of one body.

Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz points out that there is a little-known third opinion. Rav Yaakov ibn Chaviv, the author of Ein Yaakov, cites in the name of a midrash we no longer possess that the klal gadol of the Torah is found in the description of the daily Tamid offering: “One lamb-service you are to perform in morning, and the second lamb-service you are to perform in the afternoon...” In other words, there must be a constant element in our avodah that remains untouched by our mood or circumstances on any particular day, whether or not those circumstances are elevating us or bringing us down.

As an example, Rabbi Breitowitz recalled the old Jews whom he remembers from his youth in West Hartford, for whom missing a minyan would have been unthinkable. If they didn’t show up at the appointed starting time, a search party was sent out. Many years ago, I paid a shivah call to the remarkable Greenwald brothers — Sidney, Ronnie, and ybch”t Dr. Yaakov — after the petirah of their father. They described how, in his later years, when the path to shul was icy and thus life-threatening for him, their father would sit down on the path and, slowly scooting along, navigate his way in the dark to the haneitz minyan. And lately I’ve noticed that the first to arrive at one of the morning minyanim where I sometimes daven are inevitably the two gentlemen who are in wheelchairs.

Our own family just returned from a few days in the Golan settlement of Chispin. One of the benefits of such vacations is the opportunity to daven together with Jews who do not look or dress exactly like all those in our regular minyanim, and to thereby discover that there are lots of Jews whom one does not meet in the normal course who take their Judaism very seriously. The early minyanim were almost completely made up of residents of Chispin, with the vacationers taking advantage of the opportunity to sleep later than usual. There was no talking in those minyanim, few arrived after the scheduled starting time, and while the minyan did not tarry, it was not faster than in any Gerrer shtibel. Many learned either before davening or afterward, and everyone participated in the rav’s post Maariv derashah. 

Chispin is home to a hesder yeshivah and the center of religious chinuch in the Golan. It bears the mark of a makom Torah, even if many of the younger mispallelim are wearing sandals and a wider array of colorful shirts than I’m used to.

 

THE CONSISTENCY in avodas Hashem of which the Ein Yaakov writes is often undervalued. Rabbi Breitowitz recalled that as a budding yeshivah student, he did not fully appreciate the mainstays of the minyan in which he had grown up. Few, after all, were lamdanim or had yeshivah backgrounds, and some of them were almost totally unlearned. But rather than appreciating the dedication of these men, many of those with yeshivah training looked down on them.

Yet with every passing year, the importance of routine, consistency, and order — not just in one’s avodah, but in every aspect of life — becomes clearer to me, and my regret at the failure to have so far attained these qualities thus grows. When I first read about the visitor to the Beis Hatalmud of Kelm who walked in during what he presumed from the Alter’s mournful tone to be a hesped, only to discover that the subject of the Alter’s shmuess was a pair of boots not placed together in the vestibule, I was amused. Today, however, it is clear to me that the Alter was onto something very important with his emphasis on seder.

Every time I enter my office and see the various papers strewn around the floor, I experience a certain deflation and sagging of spirits. A sign proclaiming “genius at work” no longer convinces. Trying to clear the Shabbos table, over which I have spread out in the course of the week, and find places for everything found there, especially if they cannot all be dumped in my office because it is to be occupied by Shabbos guests, has become the biggest drag of the week. I find myself resenting the time stolen from preparing the parshah, which becomes a weekly source of irritation.

But really, what’s this mess all about? Clinical psychologist and professor Jordan Peterson, whose lectures and best-seller 12 Steps for Living; an Antidote for Chaos have garnered audiences in the millions, emphasizes that any attempt to gain control of one’s life begins with the little things that are within our power to do — first and foremost, cleaning up our rooms. The disorder of our rooms reflects the disorder of our minds, and so an orderly room would suggest a mind prepared to think clearly. Cleaning our rooms, establishing a routine, creating structure and a measure of predictability in our lives all give us a sense of control and provide stability. These things, according to Peterson, keep us sane.

Structure and routine allow us to start thinking about our goals — and thereby to escape aimlessness. And once we have begun to establish achievement goals, we are in a position to further refine our routine to achieve those goals. But until you have cleaned up your room, Peterson tells his mostly young audiences, please don’t ask me to pay much attention to your deep thoughts on nuclear disarmament, the proper ratio of national debt to GNP, or intersectionality and identity politics. Rule Six: Set your house in order before you criticize the world.

 

THE BEGINNING OF ELUL is the ideal time to begin cleaning up our rooms (and our minds), both literally and figuratively. The first shofar blasts have already sounded, but if past experience is any guide, most of us will push off until Erev Rosh Hashanah formulating a mission statement to present to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Yet without such a mission statement, we are in no position to ask for a further extension of time.

Even a whole month of Elul is hardly enough time to figure out who we are and what we are meant to do. Without taking those prerequisite initial steps, we are in no position to have our petitions taken seriously — at least not more seriously than Peterson takes semi-literate protesters who have never held a job (or cleaned their room) waving expletive-filled signs denouncing him as a racist or fascist or misogynist for having threatened their closed intellectual bubbles with ideas.

The start of the preparatory process of Elul is to set ourselves, if only for one month, a realistic schedule and a set of achievable goals. With each increase in order and routine and every goal achieved, we gain a feeling of self-control and of our ability to make decisions about how to respond to the various curveballs life throws us; we become choosers rather than helpless victims buffeted about by events beyond our control. And then we become worthy of Hashem’s attention to our request to be inscribed for life. Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 723. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com