Sunday’s Times featured an interesting article entitled “The Outsourced Life.” Noted sociologist Dr. Hochschild argues that we seek professionals for more and more of our personal decisions. “As we outsource more of our private lives, we find it increasingly possible to outsource emotional attachment…. Focusing attention on the destination, we detach ourselves from the small — potentially meaningful — aspects of experience. Confining our sense of achievement to results, to the moment of purchase, so to speak, we unwittingly lose the pleasure of accomplishment, the joy of connecting to others and possibly, in the process, our faith in ourselves.”
Years ago when I went to my first bar mitzvah there was no such thing as party enhancers. My friends and I made the party. It did not matter if we danced expertly or not, as long as we danced. (There were no give aways as well, only sweaty hugs of joy when the evening ended.) As the article makes clear, years ago there were no life coaches offering personal direction for a fee. To help answer our questions of what we should do there were instead parents, siblings, spouses and friends. Granted sometimes the advice and counsel was not solicited. Still it was always free and offered with our best interests at heart.
Hundreds of years ago many Jewish rituals were performed in the home and not in the synagogue. To be certain these rituals were expertly observed the lighting of Shabbat candles and morning blessings for example were moved into the synagogue. With this move from the home into the synagogue, more fell on the hands of rabbis and cantors. We turn to professionals to lead our rituals and celebrations. We turn to experts for the most intimate of advice. We are hesitant to dance if not led by the hand of experts.
The Torah portion opens with details about the requirements of the priesthood. In ancient days they and they alone performed our rituals. Only someone descended from Aaron, only a person without any perceived defects could offer a sacrifice. “The Lord spoke further to Moses: Speak to Aaron and say: No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God.” (Leviticus 21:16-17) These priests were trained in the intricacies of the sacrificial rites.
The reliance on these experts was because the ancient Israelites believed that the world would collapse if the sacrifices were performed incorrectly. They were in effect the surgeons of their day. For such important and intricate work only experts would do. Lives depended on their expertise.
There are of course those in the Jewish world who view today’s rituals in a similar manner and perceive them likewise as surgery. A misplaced word, an incorrect blessing, a forgotten candle lighting and the world tumbles toward destruction. Such is not my view. Life is not surgery. Prayer is not akin to the ancient sacrifices sacrifices. Rabbis are not priests. Cantors are not the descendants of Aaron. Our spiritual lives need not be left for surgeons.
I would rather we stumble and offer these prayers ourselves. I would rather we join with our cantor and sing our tradition’s songs. I would rather we dance—even when it appears out of step. Let joy be our own. Let our people’s rituals and prayers not be left to experts.