Thursday, 05 Mar 2020

Written by Eleanor Davis

At first glance, puppies and Talmud don’t have much in common.  Puppies are small, wriggling bundles of irresistibly soft fur, large eyes and wet noses; Talmud is an immense bundle of texts with whose small print many a student (today with or without facial fur) has sat for enough hours to make their eyesight soften.  Yet anyone who has adopted a new puppy or taken on Daf Yomi study (studying a page of Talmud per day) may have discovered a hidden link:  both demand a relentless daily commitment.

Regardless of the busyness of our lives, irrespective of the damp, chilly reality of our great British weather, both require the daily commitment of making time to study or providing regular food and exercise.  Taking on a puppy may be an even greater commitment, for puppies become dogs who usually live rather longer than the seven and a half years of a Daf Yomi cycle.  We may even inherit the commitment, for stories abound of children’s promises of care leading parents to introduce a dog to their family, only to find themselves having to take the duties on themselves; thankfully most of us are have learned a few more lessons about managing responsibility by adulthood, but even then, many of us falter or stumble under its demands.

So how do people who successfully take on Daf Yomi do it?  How do some dog owners seem to thrive on the need to pick up the lead and get out of the house every day without fail?  A surprisingly large part of the answer might be a fixed routine: it’s much easier to head out come rain or shine, or to open up your Gemara, if that’s just something you do at that time, as essential a part of your routine as brushing your teeth.

Perhaps Aaron felt the same way about lighting the lamps: pulling himself out of bed before dawn and heading into the Tabernacle with an oil jug in his hand was just another essential part of his daily routine.  While the Israelites are commanded in Parashat T’tzavveh to bring oil to keep the m’norah burning continually, Aaron and his sons are required to set up the lamps every day without fail, to burn from evening to morning (Exodus 28:20-21).  Without Aaron’s tending and rekindling, the light inside the Tabernacle would go out: a practical nuisance for fulfilling other Priestly duties and a spiritually ominous sign for the Israelites.

Still more remarkable than Aaron’s assumed diligence is his devotion, according to the Vilna Gaon’s comment that throughout his time as High Priest, Aaron carried out his lamp-tending duties with an equal sense of reverence to his feeling on the first day that he made the oil burn.  His ability to carry out such a repetitive daily task without it becoming a mechanical routine may sound implausible.  Eager excitement in the first flush of doing something new is common, but sustaining our motivation once the newness rubs away can be more of a challenge.  Yet if a regular routine can help us ensure that we continue a daily practice, Aaron’s example also suggests that mindset may be a vital factor in sustaining our enthusiasm.

How might Aaron have kept up not just his daily task but also his devotion to it? Perhaps by retaining three things: a sense of purpose, gratitude for the opportunity, and love for the people affected by his actions.  All of these may have helped Aaron to keep his approach fresh each day, for he knew his mundane task meant more than just messing about with oil and wicks.  That might not be so far away from the attitude of dog owners who happily pull on their wellies or walking boots every day: knowing that the walk is needed for the dog’s wellbeing, appreciating the fresh air, nature or people encountered on the way, and feeling affection for the dog – all of these may help to ensure that the daily walk not only happens, but happens with a spring in the owner’s step.

In this month of Adar, among the many lamps in our lives that need daily tending, we all have an extra lamp to tend.  In the Talmudic teaching (Ta’anit 29a) that ‘when the month of Adar begins, one increases happiness,’ we are each set the challenge of infusing our daily lives with some of the brightness of Aaron’s attitude.  If we can try to approach each day with a sense of purpose, gratitude and love, perhaps we can bring just a little more joy to even our mundane tasks; perhaps, like Aaron, in the process we will even manage to brighten someone else’s day too – a truly happy thought for the month of Adar.

Shabbat shalom and chag Purim sameach!

Eleanor Davis LBC rabbinic student

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.