I never included a constant grinding noise in my head as one of my health issues, but since a recent trip to California, I can’t get rid of the noise of a coffee grinder out of my mind. Of course, it isn’t just a coffee grinder; it is a Burr, the Mercedes Benz of grinders. My host will only use Pete’s coffee in his treasured grinder: One may only put the best coffee in a Burr grinder. The ground coffee is immediately placed into the finest of French presses, but he is not finished with the grinder. Special brushes are necessary to clean the grinder. Just a few leftover coffee grounds left in this magnificent and complex machine can turn the taste of the next grinding rancid. While his atomic timer counts the seconds for his carefully ground coffee to steep in the French press, he cleans his Burr. The timer rings, he presses down on the press, and his coffee is finally ready. I admit that the coffee is fantastic, worth, at least for me, all of his work and attention. But he then begins his morning coffee ritual again for his cup of morning coffee.
My ritual is slightly less complicated and time consuming: it involves a spoon (if a clean one is within reach), a bottle of instant coffee, a cup and some hot water. My coffee is not in the same league as his, but it’s certainly quicker and easier. My friend loves his coffee and his ritual rewards him with the best cup of coffee I ever tasted.
We seem to understand that some rituals, no matter how long and complicated, are worth the effort for their reward. The rituals are not the problem: When someone tells me that all the ritual in Judaism bothers him, I understand him to mean that he does not appreciate the benefit of the ritual. I readily admit that some of our rituals are long and complex, but the rewards are potentially even greater than a superb cup of Pete’s coffee. Our issue is not the ritual: it is the difficulty in appreciating the benefits, ethereal or this worldly, of our efforts. Discipline is good. We can study karate to develop discipline. Sanctifying our lives is great, at least in theory, but more difficult to appreciate when the sanctity is associated with ritual, which so easily slides into habit.
I started The Foundation Stone to help us appreciate the rewards of Judaism’s rituals. I imagined a community of people challenging each other to express how they benefit from rituals, Mitzvot, Torah, Holydays and prayer. I wanted a vehicle for people to share their insights and experiences and, most of all, their questions.
Our virtual community is growing and more people are participating every day, but I want more! More questions! More insights! More searching! People who are willing to devote so much effort to a cup of coffee surely have the time to post questions and comments. So, please, join in the conversations following each essay, on our blog and on our Twitter page.
You can comment on Samson’s struggles in this week’s Haftarah: Identity. There is food for thought on Table Talk – Lasting Impressions and The Qualification to Lead a Congregation. You can always join us in last week’s Friday night Seudah as we dealt with the laws of a fire on Shabbat in The Music of Halacha: Fire!Converse with Rabbi Chaim Goldberger of Minneapolis in The Voice of Torah. Come and join the debate of the Yeshiva Beit Midrash in Rabbi Yaakov Shlomo Weinberg’s The Torah Connection. You can express your doubts about Bentzion of Medziboz’s Stories of the Baal Shem Tov, and wonder about Rabbi Irwin Katsof’s Words Can Heal Essay: Your Children Are Armed and Dangerous. If you live in Israel you can choose the Haftarah: Walkers, or Table Talk – The Challenges of Change and The Vocabulary of Evil.
I hope that reading and being involved in these debates will become part of your ritual and even more rewarding than Pete’s coffee.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg