In a striking talmudic passage, four rabbis offer differing opinions on the Torah’s most important principles. Three are unsurprising: “Love your neighbor,” “Hear O Israel the Lord is our God,” “Man is made in the likeness of God.” But the fourth, improbably, is taken from a verse in this week’s Torah reading: “One lamb shall you offer in the morning, and the second lamb you shall offer in the afternoon” (Exodus 29:39). Jonathan Sacks sees this as a comment on the importance Judaism places on routine and ritual:
Much of Judaism must seem to outsiders, and sometimes to insiders also, boring, prosaic, mundane, repetitive, routine, obsessed with details, and bereft for the most part of drama or inspiration. . . . It is a matter of hard work, focused attention, and daily rituals. [But that] is where all sustainable greatness comes from.
We have developed in the West a strange view of religious experience: that it’s what overwhelms you when something happens completely outside the run of normal experience. You climb a mountain and look down. You are miraculously saved from danger. You find yourself part of a vast and cheering crowd. . . . You are awed by the presence of something vast. We have all had such experiences.
But that is all they are: experiences. They linger in the memory, but they are not part of everyday life. They are not woven into the texture of our character. They do not affect what we do or achieve or become. . . . [These require] daily rituals: [thrice-daily prayer], the food we eat, the way we behave at work or in the home, the choreography of holiness which is the special contribution of the priestly dimension of Judaism, set out in this week’s reading and [then] throughout the book of Leviticus.