Life can be boring—even mind-numbing—if we keep doing the same thing every day. While doing things without thinking can be helpful when multitasking, it’s not good for the spirit.

The challenge and opportunity of boring routines is the subject of a classic Chassidic thought shared by the Sfas Emes. Our parashah begins with Moshe instructing Aaron regarding the daily ritual of lighting the Menorah, after which the Torah says that Aaron did so. Rashi cites the Sifrei that notes how the verse is sharing the praiseworthiness of Aaron, l’hagid shiv’cho shel Aharon shelo shina, that he did not deviate from Moshe’s instructions.

This is surprising. While obedience is a valuable trait, it would hardly seem to be so exceptionally praiseworthy. Aaron indeed followed the instructions sent specifically to him by G-d via Moshe Rabbeinu. Wouldn’t you do the same?

The Sfas Emes therefore suggests a more creative reading of the words “shelo shina,” which typically translate to “he did not deviate,” but can also mean “he did not repeat.” What was praiseworthy in Aaron was that his daily mitzvah never became a mindless, repetitive action. He never repeated it; it was always an original, novel experience. As the Talmud (Berachos 29b) says when defining the negative phenomenon of routine in prayer, oseh t’filaso keva, the challenge lies in the inability to introduce novelty of perspective and experience, kol she’eino yachol l’chadesh bo davar. And as famously noted by the Ramban in the name of the Midrash at the end of last week’s parashah (7:12), what appears as repetition or copying is not that at all when the act is infused with novel and personal perspective and meaning.

It is striking, therefore, that this solution to the challenge of repetition is embedded in the term itself. A fascinating feature of the Hebrew language is that the same term is used for precise opposite meanings, or antonyms. As “repetition” is the opposite of “change,” the Hebrew term shina is used for both repetition and change! We avoid repetition by creativity of perspective. The very opposite of mind-numbing!

One of my teachers, Rav Moshe Shapira, zt’l, used to note that, as people of faith, we speak of the entire world as being renewed and recreated constantly (hamechadsh b’tuvo b’chol yom tamid maasei Bereishis), yet fire is the one element in creation where even the physics professor will acknowledge that this moment’s fire is entirely different than the next. Perhaps that is why the lesson of renewal, this battle with repetition, is best demonstrated by the lighting of the fire of the Menorah. And it is only our own fiery passion about our lives, our families, our faith, and our work, that will spare us from becoming hardened by repetition and routine. n

 

Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.

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