Monday, November 14, 2005


Lech Lecha and Vayeira

This week and last week we get two Torah portions which deal with two different responses to a situation in which the environment is so evil, one has to either fight or leave. Lot delays the inevitable and barely comes out alive, while earlier Abraham leaves Ur well before it is "too late".

A lot can and has been said about this, but lately I have been thinking of the concept of a "comfort" zone and the role of religion in maintaining this comfort zone or trying to free one from the prison of comfort.

What got me started was seeing a sign for a local church advertising the preaching as "refreshing" and "relevent". I wonder -- should a goal of preaching be to refresh or to be relevent? Should preaching refresh the soul and give practical advice, or should it try to awaken our moral sense to higher issues and the need to serve humanity?

Religion certainly can be relevent, but sometimes it is at its best when it forces us to look beyond the practical and everyday. This month, following a month chock full of Jewish holidays, we Jews look toward the everyday, but we must remember that the Shabbos and the Holidays are not "every-day". They are not our normal comfort zone. They are not necesssarily relevent to every-day concerns or, as the Catholics would call it, "ordinary time", but rather they are extra-ordinary. There is, though, a challenge of religion: how to translate what happens on Shabbos, on the Holidays to every-day life; how to keep the momentum of the holidays alive in living as a Jew (or Christian or what have you) during the day-to-day world. In this way, being "refreshing" and being "relevent" are two opposite things -- the holidays refresh because they are not relevent. So maybe, far from being flippant, the church which claims its preaching to be both refreshing and relevent is setting a pretty high standard for itself.

Back to the issue of comfort zones -- sometimes, though, the goal of religion is to take you out of a comfort zone and put you in an even better one. I may be comfortable living in a secular suburb, but when I visit my girlfriend in a very Jewish area, while it is difficult to get there (traffic can be horrible), there is a certain comfort walking to shul on Shabbos and actually living a more Jewish life, if only for a day or two a week. But before reaching true comfort, one must "build" the comfort zone -- and that requires being shaken from slumber. And having the alarm clock wake you is not always comfortable!

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