Fake It Till You Make It
Parshat Bo marks the first time in the Torah where the young Israelite nation are given a significant number of Mitzvot. Throughout the first book of the Torah, Genesis, and up until this point in Exodus, only three mitzvot have been cited: to have children, to perform circumcision, and not to eat the sciatic nerve in the hindquarter of an animal.
We are now introduced to the first significant number of commandments and they deal with many details associated with the Passover offering along with the numerous eating restrictions on that holiday. Anyone who has celebrated Pesach is familiar with the tremendous effort involved, not only regarding the foods we can eat, but in the preparation of the Seder on the first night(s).
But this is just the beginning. There are 613 commandments in all. When one considers the sheer number and breadth of Mitzvot it’s no wonder that Gentiles have not historically flocked to us en mass to convert. The detail and requirements the Torah demands of us in everyday life is unparalleled in any other religious system. Mitzvot deal with business, with what comes out of our mouth and what goes into our mouth, how to treat others, all kinds of rituals and numerous other areas of life including the most private ones.
Many view the number of Mitzvot as being intrusive and constricting, but the more one studies them along with their reasons and benefits, the more one appreciates that they are not about restriction but about guidance. The word Torah literally means “Instructions” and this is the main purpose of the Mitzvot – to provide instructions for living.
Just as a car requires a manual to properly take advantage of all its features – especially today with all the new high-tech computerware in them – the Torah is the guidebook to get the most out of Life. Ever buy a car and then two years later find out some great feature it has that you never noticed because you never bothered reading the manual? Then you hit yourself on the head when you realize that your driving experience could have been easier and more pleasurable had you taken a little time to look over that book in the glove compartment. Life is certainly more complicated than your new car, so it makes sense to refer to the manual to get the most out of it.
The Sefer HaChinuch is a 13th century work that lists each of the commandments and gives the rationale behind them. I studied this work way back in my early days at Aish. The author repeatedly mentions a recurring theme behind the observance of the many mitzvot. He tells us that our inner selves are influenced by our outer-selves and that our actions greatly define our personalities. What we do, how we behave, what we say – all of it shapes our soul, our character and our being. And the more we repeat things, the more they become part of us. Kind of like muscle memory but for the soul.
There is a school of thought in psychology that understands life from the opposite perspective. Look at your insides, think about what issues are blocking you from achieving and making you feel bad and this knowledge will lead to change. This is true and necessary but it sometimes has it limits. It can become counter-productive to repeatedly mull over and over the same issues. There comes a time when thinking too much is draining and can defeat the desired purpose and goal. The proverbial paralysis by analysis. There comes a point when you have to get off your butt, bite the bullet and take action, whether you fully understand yourself or not.
This is the alternative school of thought in psychology – pointed out to me by my son-in-law, Avi who works in the field – called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and reflects the Sefer HaChinuch’s approach. As Avi told me, “One needs to jump into actions in an effort to stimulate a person with movement and behaviors. The belief is that when you change your actions this will in turn change your thoughts and, ultimately, your feelings and your insides.”
And so while you are sitting there thinking, “I wonder if I should assist this person. Should I maybe start off by smiling at them? I am not really the smiley type nor am I the biggest extrovert, besides maybe they will think that I think they are inadequate by my offering to help.” And on and on and on as you mull it over in your head – blah, blah, blah – for so long that the person is long gone and the opportunity lost. As opposed to, maybe you ought to stop thinking about it so much, just smile at the person and help them out.
You don’t feel like being charitable and don’t see yourself as that type of person? Who cares, donate on a regular basis anyway and once you do, you will experience the joy of giving and thereby become a charitable person. Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l always used to say, “If you don’t feel happy, act like you are anyway” and you will be surprised at how often you will become happy in the process. Or as they say, “Fake it till you make it.”
As parents we train our kids to do their homework, clean their room and brush their teeth whether they feel like it or not. It’s for their own good and hopefully one day they will fully appreciate and do it without us nagging them. But until then, we really don’t care if they get it or not, we know that we need to get them into the practice of doing good, productive and healthy habits at an early age. Because if they don’t get used to living that way when they’re young, it ain’t going to get easier when they get older and set in their bad habits.
Same thing with God and us. He gave us instructions for life to get us into the habit of leading the most productive, meaningful and good lives possible. So while it’s true that we need to delve into the understanding and meaning of what the Torah’s Mitzvot truly mean before we do them, there comes a time when we should just take the leap of faith and just start doing them.
A good salesman will always work to have the customer try on the clothes or jewelry or test-drive the car. They know that once we experience the product, there is a greater likelihood we will buy. So don’t think too much and don’t excessively contemplate your navel when it comes to doing Mitzvot. Take them for a test-drive because who knows… you might just leave the showroom with a brand-spanking- new mitzvah in your life. And what could be wrong with that?
Show me joy, flower through disarray
Let’s destroy, each mistake that we made
Then restore color back to the grey
There’s no pride in sharing scars to prove it
Oh my lover, my lover, my love
We can never go back
We can only do our best to recreate
Don’t turn over, turn over the page
We should rip it straight out
Then let’s try our very best to fake it