While participating in prayer and observing mitzvot are important parts of our spiritual lives, they are “acts” that can be performed autonomously and unthinkingly. I use the word “acts” in quotations for a purpose. The potential problems is that while are act or perform it can to easily be by rote rather than with focus or attention. After all, a stage actor does not have to mean what he or she says or intend, in reality, what they do. It is all part of the script  What I find that I need to do to keep my relationship with God and our tradition meaningful is to think about what I am doing and why I am doing or saying it. I must sense it and absorb it.

The book of Deuteronomy (sefer D’vorim), the last of the five books of the Torah, give us a strong hint on achieving that focus. Early on we are commanded “SHEMA YISRAEL”, “Hear oh Israel. This is not just the physical pounding of sound waves upon our eardrums, this is a command for real listening, for absorbing the lessons of our wisdom, for understanding them and, ultimately sharing them with our descendants.

We are told, a little later in the same book “see”, or “look”. See that what is put before us is a choice. In the text the choice is between, blessing or curse life and death. But looking or seeing could involve appreciating the beauty and intricacy of God’s world. Or it could involve reading and study to better know and understand our rich tradition.

The beauty of these thoughts coming out of Deuteronomy is that this book, unlike the first four, consists of words spoken by Moses to the people. They are very human in tone and content and, as Moses states later in the book not out of human reach, but eminently accessible.

We should not just mechanically talk to or about God; we have to find a way to perceive the lessons God has to teach us as part of our essence so that the element of Godliness in us can be the guide to our actions, not only toward God but, importantly, to each other.