(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor
As she stands before me, speechless, I realize why it's all in place, this tradition.
You see, in moments of no need (if there truly are such things), the intricate system of rule and custom Judaism calls halacha and minhag can feel like just that: a system. But, in moments of need (if only they were that seldom) these very same rules and customs seem hardly systemic - they serve as personally stabilizing anchors in a wildly careening world.
In short, rituals are there to hold us safe when we feel wobbly and unsure (and provide language when ecstasy renders us at a loss for words). Sure, we have a hand in our living tradition's adaptive design. But the greatest gift of spiritual tradition - ours, theirs, and ones yet to be - is that it is always larger than the self. It isn't about me, so when something must be done, it doesn't depend on my creative capacity during my time of incapacity. When something must be done, tradition provides a real and grounded way to do it.
Oh, yes. One other thing: This isn't really about a "she." It's actually about me. I know what it is to stand before a Beit Din with shaking hands, uncertain and dependent. I know what it is to dissolve and feel the stirring of new life in the tear-touched waters of the mikvah. I know what it is to be skillfully led in prayer. I've been graced by both halacha and minhag throughout my life. I'm still learning their depths and richness. Thank God.
Tradition can be so very beautiful, and I'm so very grateful.
"Ashreinu: Mah tov Chelkeinu, Umah ma'im goraleinu, uMah yafah Yerishateinu."
"Our joy: How good is our portion, how pleasant our fate, how beautiful our inheritance."