The problem with any revolution or movement based on novel idea or single principle is that with time dedication to that position overshadows a commitment to the greater values that lead to its development.
How many mass movements have become the victim of success and single-mindedness? How many revolutions ended with the victors becoming as tyranical as the dictator they replaced?
In the last 300 years two major movements came to dominate Ashkenazic Jewry - the Yeshivish philosophy of the Vilna Gaon, ztk"l and his primary student, Reb Chaim Volozhiner, ztk"l, and the Chasiddic ideology of the Baal Shem Tov, ztk"l.
The Misnagdim of the Yeshivish community believed in the importance of Torah learning. Closeness to God, as defined by Reb Chaim Volozhiner, came through intense learning of Torah Lishmah. The Chassidim, on the other hand, sought out dveikus through ectasy (the emotion, not the drug), happiness and celebrating one's relationship with the Creator.
While there is a great validity to both approaches the limitations are quite evident in today's Orthodox community. On the Yeshivish side the original learning of Torah Lishmah has been slowly corrupted into learning for the sake of avoiding the real world's obligations. Look at the responses from the Yeshivish community when the perceived right to sit and learn on the State of Israel's shekel is challenged.
On the Chassidic side the strong emotional tendencies of the movement have changed from joy and celebration into anger and xenophobia. Consider the violent outbursts from communities in response to challenges from the outside world or even just a woman in a tank top who wandered into the wrong neighbourhood.
Yes, there are many adherents to both movements who remain committed to the original ideals of their respective founders but the public face of both groups has changed and not for the positive. Like any mass movement, a particular value came to represent everything and the original reasons for that value have been forgotten.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, ztk"l, made attempts to reconcile the two opposing philosophies of the Yeshivah community and Chassidus through his philosophy and his writings. A product of both worlds, he wrote ina way that was a synthesis of the best values of each. But it is clear, a century or so later, that much of what he hoped for was lost on the masses. Both the Yeshivish and the Chassidim have ignored him and the Religious Zionist community, for the most part, has concentrated more on his Zionist thinking than on the meta-issue of religious philosophy.
Perhaps it's time for another try. I'm not suggesting I'm interested in starting a mass movement. I'm no revolutionary and besides, I have a day job that pays really well. But I do think it's time to suggest something and get people thinking about it.
Over the millenia we have had great Jewish thinkers present many rationales for keeping the mitzvos. We have had many ideas presented as to how to motivate the Jewish public and bring about achdus. As our current miserable situation in golus proves, none of them have taken off.
Think about all the books on middos improvement from the Rishonim and Acharonim. Consider all the sifrei mussar out there. They were written by brilliant and pious men, they are logically presented and widely read but how many of them really had a mass impact?
I often listen to shiurim while I'm driving in the car and am struck with the disconnect older rebbeim have with their students. A mature adult understands the value of Torah lishmah and appreciates the opportunity to learn in such a manner. A 14 year old boy often doesn't. This is understandable. What's not understandable is the rebbe saying "I don't see why you're not as excited about this as I am! What's wrong with you? Why would you rather look out the window or play baseball than figure out the Ritv"a on this blatt?" I wonder how many OTD's there are out there because of rebbeim who think that the best way to motivate a teenager or even a younger kid is to tell him there's something wrong if he doesn't find in-depth Gemara learning or davening an amazing and inspiring experience.
How then to motivate? Again consider: gratitude.
One of the biggest causes of depression that I run across in my daily work is ingratitude. Not that people are consciously being that way, mind you, but in our modern society it seems to be standard for many folks to always focus on what they don't have instead of what they do have.
I have one patient, for example, that suffers terribly from this. She lives in a beautiful apartment, is financially secure, has a daughter married to a successful plumber and a handful of healthy, well-behaved grandchildren. But if you met her you'd think she was living a life of misery... because of the arthritis in her knee. Not both knees, just one but it's all she cares about. Everything else in her life means nothing because her knee hurts. She could just die! Life's not worth living! There's nothing good out there!
So again: gratitude.
You could tell a 14 year old boy who doesn't like getting up in the early morning to daven that there's something wrong with him. You could shout at him that he's not motiovated or that he's going to be committing an aveirah by missing z'man krias shema.
But perhaps another approach would work. You could remind him of all that he has, like his family, his pesonal possessions, his health, his living in a peaceful society where the rule of law usually runs things and that the root cause, the ultimate reason for all this is the chesed of the Ribono shel Olam.
When it comes to Torah study it could also be applied. Imagine telling a young man that his reason to learn is because the Ribono shel Olam gives him so much and all He asks in return is for him to learn about Him and His works in the Torah and Talmud. He's not learning Torah because he must, because he has no choice, because it's what everyone is doing, because of what the neighbours will say, but because he recognizes what He has done for him and it's only right to give a little back.
You can argue with someone about the importance of keeping kosher or Shabbos until you're blue in the face and it won't work. Might the approach of reminding him that it's pretty much universally recognized that giving back to someone who has given you something is a positive trait have a better effect?
This also could go beyond such narrow interests. Look at the surrounding Jewish community. Too often our Orthodoxy builds walls between us and our non-observant brethren. We see what divides us and miss all we have in common. Yet it cannot be ignored that without them we would not exist. What kind of amazing, growing and prosperous Chareidi would there be in Israel without the hard work of the secular Israeli taxpayers and soldiers? What kind of Jewish community would exist in North America without the money and organizations run by the secular Jews here? No, we don't have to agree with their definitions of Judaism but we can recognize that we have much in common with them and focus on that.
Imagine what would happen in Israeli society tomorrow if yeshivos were to start preaching to their students that they much acknowledge all the good Israel as a country and a society has done for them without harping on the bad. What would that do for the average secular Jew's perception of Torah Judaism? How would that change the inner nature and character of the Chareidi Jew?
What kind of changes would we see in an education system in which motivation to learn and pray is through wanting to thank God instead of living up to the expectations of others? How would that enhance the individual's feeling of self and desire to be part of Torah society?
It's not as intense as Torah Lishmah and lacks the pizazz of dveikus but perhaps Hakaras HaTov as a fundamental philosophy is something we need to start thinking about.