Once a friend said to me, “Look, I believe in God. There are lots of things about religion that I like, but I just can’t observe the commandments.”
“Because it’s boring. Every day the same thing, everyone doing the same mitzvot – it’s boring!”
“Tell me something: do you breathe often?”
“Of course; everyone breathes all the time!”
“Why don’t you get bored from breathing all the time?”
“Because that’s something natural; I have to breathe in order to live!”
As we approach parshat Naso and the festival of the giving of the Torah, I believe that perhaps our parsha offers an answer to this argument.
In parshat Naso, the Torah describes the sacrifices offered by the princes of the tribes of Israelat the inauguration of the altar. During twelve consecutive days, each prince brought his sacrifice – and the Torah records in detail the sacrifice offered each day. The problem is that all of these sacrifices are identical! The commandment to bring these sacrifices does not apply for all generations; it was given only to those people at that time. The Torah is describing a one-time event at great length, in verses that repeat themselves twelve times! Why?
The concept of “boredom” is a relatively new concept in western culture (it made its appearance only in the 18th century), but it has managed to establish itself as one modern man’s most central driving forces.
In a world in which boredom is one of the things that man fears most, causing him to perceive it as casting its long shadow over all of his actions, we must look at our parsha and remember: we all have the same God; we are all, ultimately, descendants of the same forefather; we have the same 613 commandments that we are all obligated to observe – but none of this makes us “boring”; in no way does it nullify the uniqueness of each individual. The Mishna in Sanhedrin (chapter 4, mishna 5) teaches:
“…Therefore man (Adam) was created alone – to teach us that anyone who causes a single soul of Israel to be lost is considered by the Torah as though he caused the death of an entire world, and anyone who saves a soul of Israel is considered by the Torah as though he saved an entire world. And also – to create peace between people: so that one person should not say to another, “My ancestor was greater than yours”. And also so that heretics will not say, “There are many powers in the heavens”. And also, to show the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He: for a person mints several coins from the same stamp, and all emerge identical to one another. But the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, “minted” all people with the “stamp” of Adam, but not a single one of them is identical to another. Therefore every person is obligated to say, “The world was created for my sake.””
Boredom arises when we forget man’s essence, when we ignore his inner nature. A person does not become bored with the things that he does naturally; rather, he becomes bored with things that he perceives as being external to him. A person does not feel that he loses his uniqueness amongst the masses because he breathes just like everyone else. Kirkegaard defines the matter well when he writes, “Boredom is the root of all evil – the despairing refusal to be oneself.”
Man was created as a single individual to teach us that each of us contains an entire, rich, inner world, a unique Divine soul that maintains unique interactions with reality. From the outside, all people look fairly similar, but inside each is a whole world. And the Torah elaborates on and illustrates this point specifically within the context of the inauguration of the Sanctuary.
The inauguration of the Sanctuary is the beginning of a new form of Divine service; an innovation that the world has never yet seen. The regular Sanctuary service, on the other hand – like all Divine service – is a fixed routine that repeats itself in daily, monthly and yearly cycles. This service is introduced, ceremonially and symbolically, by the representatives of the entire nation, each of whom brings an identical sacrifice. The Torah painstakingly describes each sacrifice in detail – so that we will become accustomed to, and remember, the idea that each sacrifice is indeed special.
In a culture that is outwardly-focused, there is a continuous expectation that uniqueness will find expression in physical, external form. In a culture whose ears are attuned to rich inner worlds, there is no need for this. If we just listen to this parsha with enough sensitivity, we will hear about twelve different sacrifices.
And that is how I ended my conversation with my friend:
“The mitzvot, which flow from the inner world of every Jew, are natural to him, and that is why they are not boring!”