Monday, August 30, 2010

A Timeless Message, Still Relevant

I recently found the following quote:
Imagine that you are about to take a trip to another world.
You are preparing for a most exciting experience. It will be a totally different place, and you are looking forward to things you have never seen or experienced before.
But it is different, and you will have to adjust to it. Your experiences here will be of little use to you once you get there.
You are given an instruction manual, telling you how to live on this new world. It is a thick book, filled with detailed charts and lists. You read it through and are left very confused and distressed. How can one understand this new world? How will one possibly adjust to all these complex conditions and rules? Before you have started, you are almost ready to abandon the trip completely.
But you make up your mind and decide to go through with the trip. You get there, and as you expected, find it very difficult to adjust, but then the days pass, and you become used to your new world. After a while, all your questions and apprehensions have vanished.
A while later, you look at your instruction manual again. This time, you read it in a new light. Most of it now seems very obvious. Things look very different now that you have experienced them.
What do you think that this quote was written about? Anyone who's a regular reader of this blog would probably tell you that it's a quote about aliyah and living in Israel.
Only it's not.
It was written in 1974 by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. He wrote these words about keeping Shabbat.
I was reading his short work on Shabbat in preparation for an online class that I'll be giving this semester. I'm amazed at how clear, precise and relevant his words still are.
And he encapsulates a problem that many teachers struggle with. You can take students only so far with intellectual study. It can be involving, engrossing, engaging. But at the end of the day, it's a cerebral activity. You can study your entire life, and never once experience the joy and beauty of Shabbat.
How can you convince someone to take the fateful leap to make a significant life change that will on the one hand, be profoundly jarring at first, but in the end deeply meaningful? How do you convey a feeling that is only meaningful when experienced personally?
I guess that's why they call it a "leap of faith."