It isn't that hard to figure ou what the meaning of Judaism is. God Himself tells us that we should become holy because He is holy. Our Chazal have provided ample examples of God's holiness and how we can emulate it. If that's the case, why are we, as a Torah-observant community, failing in so many ways to reach that goal?
I would venture to suggest that it's because the three main branches of the observant community -Modern Orthodoxy, Religious Zionist and Chareidi - have filtered the quest fo holiness right out of our daily lives.
Oh to be sure there are the routines we all go through. We say "Modeh ani" and put on ou tefillin every morning, we mumble the requisite berachos before we eat, and so on but how many times a day do we stop and consciously make those acts part of a question towards a greater level of holiness?
This happens across the spectrum, from left to right. Want some quick examples? I was recent at a Pesach hotel where we, the guests, were fed for 8 days like Hansel and Gretel. By dinner time on the 8th day of the holiday I had no further interest in food and I wasn't the only one. But one hour or so after the end of the holiday, where were the occupants of the program? Most of them were in line waiting for pizza and other chometz-enriched goodies. From the eagerness of the people standing in line you'd almost think we'd been fasting for a week, not gorging.
How about Yom Kippur? We spend much of the 25 hours it contains standing and praying for forgiveness from our Maker. We fast, avoid leather shoes, and pour our hearts out in prayer. Then, as the post-hoilday Maariv ends what do we do? We make a run for the kitchen to eat something.
Just like on Pesach where we've spent 8 days elevated ourselves to a higher level through our avoidance of chometz only to throw it away the first chance we get, so too we end Yom Kippur by clambering down right back to the level we started at.
Why? Because for many of us Pesach isn't about spiritual growth and distancing oneself from the gashmius in one's life. It's about not eating bread, going psychotic in cleaning the house and trying to come up with the most impressive d'var Torah one can which means that the minute the holiday and its restrictions end we carry nothing away. Same thing with Yom Kippur. Are we really trying to emerge out the other end of the day closer to an angelic state, clean of sin and closer to the Creator, or are we just going through the motions because that's what "the book" says we have to do.
In the coming weeks leading up the Shavous perhaps we should think about this failing so many of us are susceptible to. Instead of avoiding certain things during Sefirah because the Mishnah Berurah says we have to, might we contemplate avoiding them because of a sense of understanding of why those restrictions are there in the first place?
And why are they there? Chazal tell us that 24 000 of Rabbi Akiva's students died during Sefirah because they didn't show respect for one another. Sefirah restrictions aren't there because Chazal and the Poskim had nothing better to do than come up with new rules (on the other hand, don't get me started on quinoa and kitniyos). They wanted us to spend this time focusing on how we can better treat our fellows as we quest spiritually from yetzias Mitzrayim to matan Torah. I might venture that someone who holds by every restriction in the books during Sefirah but never contemplates this point hasn't really observed Sefirah but has simply gone through the motions.
Now I know this is a difficult thing to consider. Constant self-awareness, constant reflection on one's actions including the habitual ones are incredibly hard. The greatness of our Avos is due to their ability to surmount any difficulties and achieve that state. We who are as nothing compared to them cannot hope to reach that level but on the other hand, Rachmana liba ba'ey. God wants the heart and it is the effort that He rewards, not necessarily the results. Perhaps we can try to inject some understanding into our actions so as to make them more meaningful and improve our lot as a nation.