I just returned from taking my car for an oil change and safety inspection. We do not only regularly inspect our cars, but, as someone who flies a lot, I happen to know (and am very happy that) the FAA inspects every plane on a regular basis. We do inspections all the time; cars, airplanes, fire detectors and computers. All our transportation methods and many other complex technologies get inspected regularly.
One thing that does not really get inspected very often is ourselves. And really, it is something which is much more necessary than an oil change or an inspection of a car, because we are the ones who are, not just driving the car, but driving the entire world. It is human freewill which is at the steering wheel of existence. In fact, the Kabbalists point out that when the prophet Ezekiel sees the throne of G-d, and sees a human sitting on the throne, he is expressing the idea that humanity sits on the throne of G-d; that is to say, G-d gave us the steering wheel of the car, of the world, for us to drive, and it is our freewill which really shapes the destiny of the world. There is a Midrash in Koheles, Ecclesiastes that says that when G-d first created Adam and Eve he took them around the world and showed it to them and said, “Isn’t it beautiful? The world is gorgeous and full of wonderful things; take care not to destroy it, because if you destroy it no one can fix it.” The implication is that the human ability to destroy is way beyond that of any other creature, but, by the same token the human ability to correct mistakes, to build and to improve is also greater than all other creatures.
Rabbi Yehudah Halevy, a great Jewish philosopher and poet of the 12th Century, writes in his book the Kuzari, that we actually do have regular inspections. Judaism requires that we submit ourselves to inspection on a regular and frequent basis. He says the idea of prayer three times a day is precisely that. We start off the day in the morning with a prayer shacharit and that prayer is supposed to be a way of examining ourselves and our plans, our intentions, our goals, what we really want, what we are looking for in life, what we are going to do when we get what we want. We ask for health, we ask for wealth, we are ask for dignity, and we have to contemplate what we are going to do with the health, wealth, and dignity once we get it. Why do we want it? What are we going to do with it? So it is almost like plotting your course the beginning of the day. Mincha, the afternoon service is in the middle of the day’s activities it starts from just after midday and it goes till sundown, in other words it is in the centre of the day’s activities, and it is a much shorter prayer. It is almost like a course check you know you turn on your GPS just to see how far it is to go, you know, you are on the turnpike anyway, you don’t…. But you want to know how far it is to go and how far you have come. So in a sense Mincha is like a reality check in the middle of the day. The evening service, Maariv, is a contemplation also of what we have accomplished if anything and a review, and the captain’s log so to speak. And Rav Chaim Vital, a great Kabbalist, points out in his book Gates of Holiness, Shaarei Kedushah, says that since sleep is a sixtieth of death, a taste of death, just as before a person dies they confess their sins to G-d they evaluate their life and they try to see what they have done right, and what they have done wrong .., so too every night when we go to sleep we should do the same thing.
But as Rav Yehudah Halevy says, if you do it so often like three times a day every single day then it begins to lose its impact. It becomes a rote action, it becomes a little too common, and therefore we do not really feel it is an inspection. That is why we have Shabbat, the eve of Sabbath is a time we are also supposed to look into ourselves, look into our souls and our actions. What did we accomplish in the past week? How have contributed to the good of humanity, to the good of the world? How did we improve ourselves? Of course we get caught up in preparations for Shabbat and we do that every single week and we don’t think about the above ideas. So G-d gave us Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of each month, traditionally the eve of the new moon, the eve of the first day of the month what we call Erev Rosh Chodesh is called in Jewish tradition Yom Kippur Katan, a minor Yom Kippur, that is to say a minor Day of Atonement. There are people who fast but a lot of people say special prayers. If you go to the Western Wall, the Kotel, you will see people crying late at night and really thinking about what they have done in the past month and trying to change and improve themselves in the world; it is a beautiful and amazing thing to see. That is once a month. And if once a month does not work for you because it is too often, so we have, Passover, Shavuot and Succos, the three pilgrimage festivals. One is a time when we think about G-d’s divine providence and another we think about freedom and freewill and another time we think about the giving of the Torah and our responsibility. In other words, each of these times has its own focus of what we think about in those times and try and make some commitments, some introspection in each of these areas. And of course, sometimes we get a little caught up with the eating more cheesecake than Torah, more knaidlach than freedom….
So, once a year G-d gives us Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the New Year and Day of Atonement. And the New Year and the Day of Atonement are times it would be very hard for a person not to think. Here you go one day a year with being judged for our life, for our health, for our wealth, for everything we are being judged. We have an opportunity of repentance at this time, so obviously people will hopefully look into themselves and really think about what their life is about. And that is how the pattern of the year, three times a day, once a week, once a month, three times a year, and once a year. And of course, we also know that it is true is the Talmud and other sources say that that G-d gives opportunities for people to make an accounting and a reflection even outside of the general pattern of what is universal. When a person is at a life juncture or when a person has to make a serious decision, when a person is G-d forbid sick, when a person encounters a stressful moment, when a person is in an accident, they have an experience that makes them realize their own mortality etc. So these experiences that really make you think and we need those. Those are things that happen to us because we just take everything by rote and we do not think that much about what we are doing in life.
Maybe it would be a good idea if we all walked around with a little sticker on our forehead. Every three months to check how you are behaving towards your spouse, your kids, your parents, your cousins, your employees, your employer, your fellow workers. We should have to get the sticker renewed every so often just to make sure everything is OK.