In the summer of 1963, a group of college students from the United Kingdom visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, and presented him with a number of questions. Their questions were primarily philosophical, and the students’ agenda was to discern the Rebbe’s opinion on various subjects.
Among their inquiries, they asked the Rebbe what he felt was the secret to the Jewish people keeping together and surviving for three thousand years.
The Rebbe’s answer was very straightforward: it is the Torah and Mitzvahs that have sustained us all these years. They have not changed, and have therefore enabled us, by following G-d’s precepts, to persevere as well.
To many, this statement may, mistakenly, sound like the stereotypical Orthodox mantra: G-d gave us laws, and if we don’t follow those rules we’re doomed. However, upon further reflection, when actually considering these words, we discover that not only has it been true for the Jews throughout history, but it is in fact true and prevalent today as well.
With the baseball season approaching, let us use the national pastime as a metaphor. Imagine if George Steinbrenner (yes, I’m a New Yorker…) decided one day that he’s changing the layout of Yankee Stadium. From this point on, in order to enhance his players’ ability to score, he’s reducing the distance between bases from 90 feet to 75 feet. One can imagine the uproar this would cause (not to mention the animosity it would add to the already detested Yankees).
But what’s wrong with that? Mr. Steinbrenner hasn’t changed the game much. He hasn’t reduced the amount of bases, or the three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule. All he did was make it easier for his players, as well as visiting players, to run the bases. The obvious answer is that in order for his team to be part of Major League Baseball, and for them to be allowed to compete with other teams, they must follow the strict guidelines that have been part of the game for so many years.
If they deviate, they may still consider themselves baseball players, but they will find themselves outside of the mainstream. And once that happens, there’s nothing stopping them from changing more rules. Perhaps beginning with having 4-inning games, then 5-men lineups, until one day they may play by a time clock, divided to four periods; use a larger ball filled with air; wear jerseys and shorts; and instead of the goal being to hit the ball out of the park, their new objective will be to throw the ball through a hoop.
The Jewish nation is no different. In order for us to survive, we must stick to what works. For 3,000 years the Torah and Mitzvahs have kept us going; additions, subtractions, or any changes, can only impair our existence as a people.
Of course, the correct approach to Judaism is not that of all-or-nothing. G-d appreciates every Mitzvah we perform, regardless of those we don’t yet do. The challenge is to not be satisfied by what we’ve already accomplished. When behaving a certain way long enough, it becomes second nature and it is time to move on; it is time to challenge ourselves once again; time to see what more we can achieve. What was yesterday’s great accomplishment, is today’s status quo.