Getting Away with the Bare Minimum
Whether it’s hotel service or our attitude towards Judaism, this is not the way to get the greatest experience.
I was privileged to be on vacation for the last two weeks with my husband and two of our post-adolescence children (in other words it was an actual vacation!). We stayed in two different hotels and had two very different experiences.
In the first, the staff went about their duties in a perfunctory fashion; they did exactly what they had to, no more and no less. They weren't rude but neither were they friendly. When asked about good walking trails in the area, they professed ignorance. Yet it turned out that following the main road the led from the hotel's front driveway took us straight onto a very popular and beautiful trail!
Our second experience could not have been more different. The staff was not only service-oriented (to the point of pressing the elevator button for us), offering advice about best sites, best modes of transportation and even where to get gas – but very friendly as well. We were greeted like long-lost friends when we walked back in at the end of a long day, with joking requests for some of the (kosher of course) pizza we were carrying.
The staff at the first hotel certainly didn't ruin our experience while those at the second didn't "make" it either. But we noticed. And it gave rise to two thoughts.
The more prosaic was just the obvious difference that a little friendliness and concern can make. Especially when we are away from home in unfamiliar surroundings. The first made us feel alienated, the second comfortable.
But on a deeper level, it made me think about my relationship with the Almighty. We have (at least) two ways of approaching it as embodied by the aforementioned hotel employees.
We can be like the first – going through the motions, doing what's necessary to get by, fulfilling the letter of our responsibilities. We'll still get rewarded (in this world and the next) but we will be missing the full potential of the experience.
In the second way, we will derive the pleasure of performing mitzvot, we will enjoy them as we engage in them, and that joy will be deepen our relationship with the Almighty who recognizes our genuine care and concern. Putting in that extra effort of truly caring, the effort of doing our best (as we always tell our children), we get an exponentially greater experience in this world and in the next.
It was a wonderful vacation. Each location offered different opportunities for appreciating the beauty of the Almighty's world. We reveled in the lakes, mountains and historic cities.
But we learned something beyond dates, facts and figures. We witnessed first-hand the difference between behaving by rote and doing the bare minimum and investing your all in everything you do. It helped shape our Rosh Hashanah perspective and hopefully our actions for the upcoming year.