D’var Torah: Practice makes perfect … and holy

Rabbi Shmully Litvin

Everyone is aware of the shocking events that transpired on the last day of Passover, when a man walked into Chabad of Poway, California, intent on carrying out acts of horror and destruction. He came face to face with Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who stood his ground to protect others. Even after being injured, he still tended to his flock. He has since continued to be a beacon of light in the world and inspiration to many.
Over 3,000 years ago, when the fledgling Jewish nation stood in terror at the shores of the Sea of Reeds, another hero, Nachshon, was ready. He obeyed G-d’s instruction to go forward, paying no heed to the water before him. As the waters closed over his head, the sea suddenly split.
I have heard amazing stories of great feats of strength – a mother pulling a car off of her child, for one – that seem beyond ability and comprehension.
What do these people have that sets them apart? How do they unleash this powerful readiness?
I have a friend in the military, stationed at Fort Campbell, who is a helicopter mechanic. When he told me his daily routine, I was amazed.
He wakes up, runs 30 miles, practices with weapons, does training runs on the helicopter, practice, practice, practice.
I asked him if it ever gets boring, and his simple answer blew me away: “When you are flying over a hostile area, you don’t want to have to think, just do, and do it right.”
So clearly, to be ready, we must practice. What drill then, can we do to be ready to face whatever comes our way?
Looking to the Torah for inspiration, I connected with the tone and message of the portion of Kedoshim, which we recently read. G-d beseeches the Jewish people to be holy, because G-d is holy. And how does one become holy? Our sages teach us that not only should we stay away from what is wrong and forbidden but sanctify oneself with what is permitted.
Rabbi Israel Bal Shem Tov, the 17th century mystic and founder of the modern Hassidic method, teaches that a soul may descend to the word for 70 or 80 years just to do a single favor for another. Imagine your entire life, all your experiences, all your relationships, schooling. Your entire being is placed into this world just to be ready to do one good act, one favor for another person. Will you be ready?
At the Unite for Light event, my father said that we can live differently if we are just mindful and pay great attention to POWAY – the Power Of Words And You. To be ready to act, for whatever the mission or destiny G-d has in store for you, we must train ourselves to be mindful of our words, our actions and our ability to affect those around us. Before any action or activity, we should ask ourselves one centering question: Is this holy? Is doing this going to help me be ready to fulfill whatever my destiny may be, acting as a holy creation of G-d? Everything one does – eating, playing, working, relationships – can be G-dly, when we keep drilling ourselves every day. One does not need to change their job to rabbi or go live in a cave, we just need to apply this mindset to whatever we might do.
As we approach the special day of unity on the 33rd of the omer, and approach Shavuot, the day when all of the Jews united together to receive the Torah from G-d on Mt. Sinai, I pray that we practice being holy, and that together we make the world a peaceful place, a holy place, a fitting dwelling place for G-d’s presence and the coming of the moshiach.

(Rabbi Shmully Litvin is education and teen director at JLC-Chabad of Kentucky. He also teaches at Louisville Jewish Day School.)

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