Friday, May 11, 2012

When Special isn't all that Special

Yesterday morning, in our weekly Talmud class, the Talmud had a quick aside* about which prayer should be said first, when a certain two prayers (mincha and mussaf) were both required to be said. And, the Talmud (Berachot 27a, if you're interested!) teaches that mincha should be said first, because it is the more frequently said prayer. The prayer that is said more often gets a higher priority than the prayer which is said less often.

* Actually, it's sometimes hard to know when we're having an aside. Sometimes, Talmud study feels like one big aside.

It's a bit counterintuitive for most of us. In general, we think about rare events as more significant, and more important, than common events. “Annual” is used as a kind of superlative—an “annual event” is a big deal. A “once in a lifetime event” is a really big deal. But, something which happens more regularly? That's ordinary. Quotidian (which just means common or daily, but usually has the implication of boring or blandly average).

But, that's not how Judaism sees it. In Judaism, the things which happen regularly are more important, and more sacred than the things which happen irregularly, or rarely. For example, if a holiday falls on Shabbat, then the prayers for Shabbat precede the prayers for that holiday, because Shabbat comes first, priority-wise.

There is a real logic here. The uncommon events, the rarities, are exciting. It's easy to notice them, and to get excited about them. But, that doesn't make them more important. Think about it in terms of a marriage (or other long-term relationship). Anniversaries are wonderful. And “special anniversaries,” such as a 50th anniversary, are even more special, and we're likely to celebrate them with a big party. But, as wonderful as those events are (and they are wonderful) they aren't what's really important. Or, maybe more pointedly, they aren't what really sustain our relationships.

As I've told lots of new brides and grooms, a lovely present bought for a big anniversary is fine. But, it's the flowers brought home on a random Thursday, just because you're thinking of them, that mean a lot more. A once-in-a-lifetime trip taken will give us some wonderful memories and a full photo album. But, sitting on the couch watching your favorite show together will get you through life.

There's nothing wrong with the special events. They're wonderful, and we should embrace them. But we should always remember that they're only made possible by the wonderfully quotidian moments which fill our every day.

Shabbat shalom!

No comments: