It seems that it’s pretty often that I hear a comment like, “Rabbi, I feel very Jewish, but I’m really not very religious.” And with time, I have come to appreciate what these people are expressing.
They are among quite a few of us perhaps, who grew up with the message that being “religious” in the Jewish sense, has very much to do with how often one prays, and in what language one prays, and with whether one is wearing a yarmulke or a tallis or tefillin while he is praying. We learned also that being religious has much to do with what one eats and at what occasions, and with what foods one does not eat. We learned to how read Hebrew, how to daven, how to say the appropriate blessings, how to observe the Sabbath and the holidays and festivals.
But what we didn’t always learn is that being “religious,” at least for Judaism, has very much to do with how we conduct ourselves in our daily lives, and with other people.
If there is any single message that I would hope we would all appreciate about Judaism, it is that there is to be no distinction between so-called “religious observance” and living our ideals of justice and kindness and compassion. To the contrary, our rituals are intended to remind us of those values and ideals and inspire us to live by them.
I like the thought of Leo Buscaglia who was a college professor. He wrote that “too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”