Consistency, like many other character traits in life that are primarily positive, can turn into a negative trait if carried to an extreme. We are all aware that consistency is essential to good parenting, meaningful education, business and commercial success, as well as to political and governmental stability.
Consistency is not necessarily doing things by rote. It is rather the reinforcement of good habits and wise policies, by repetition and emulation. Judaism, by the nature of its commandments, ordinances and customs, champions this trait of consistency. Daily prayer, constant attention to detail in all facets of life, the rhythm of the Sabbath and the holy days of the Jewish calendar, all combine to create a lifetime and a community of consistency and stability.
Jewish consistency spans millennia and the entire geographical space of our earth. Even when in doubt, for instance, if one is alone on a desert island without a sense of calendar and time, one should revert to consistency and establish for one's self a seven-day week with either the first day or the seventh day being the day of Sabbath. The lesson here is clear – when in doubt, at least be consistent.
All psychologists and educators agree that children in their formative years crave discipline and consistency no matter how much they may apparently disdain those traits. Life, to be meaningful, must have a rhythm. That rhythm can only be provided by consistent behavior and the creation of good and healthy habits and characteristics.
However, consistency can be overdone. Many have defined insanity as repeating the same behavior over and over again even though it has been proven to be ineffective in the past. To be consistently wrong is not a virtue nor is it something that we should admire and adhere to. If it were not for innovation, creativity and the search for something new and different as part of human nature, civilization would have remained in the Stone Age.
It is only when one breaks the chains of consistency and experiments with the new and the unknown that human progress develops and expands. Judaism and Jewish life recognize this necessary truth and we have proven to be resilient and adaptive to all of the events – both good and better – that have occurred to us over the many millennia of our existence as a people.
We have achieved the paradoxical situation of being both consistent and creative at one and the same time, which is apparently the secret of our survival and success over the long years of our bitter exile. Constant change leads only to uncertainty and chaos, losing generations yet unborn in terms of Jewish life and practice. Being only consistent and not allowing for new tactics and adjustments as times and circumstances dictate, only dooms our society to becoming old and weathered and eventually irrelevant and weak.
There naturally is a great balancing act necessary to navigate the paradox of consistency and innovative creativity. Here lies the challenge of Jewish life for every generation and every location.
Both politically and religiously our generation is trapped in the midst of this paradoxical situation. Those that advocate radical change, whether in politics, diplomacy, commerce and other realms, have been proven to be not only overly optimistic but also very wrong in their policies and agenda. Repeating these mistakes and policies seems to be a clear indication of wrong thinking and blind expectations.
Yet there are many amongst us who still maintain that somehow these policies regarding the future of the State of Israel and/or “improvements” and reform to Judaism and Jewish values should be consistently followed and implemented. The fact that none of this works in the real world is of no consequence, because the ideologue is always trapped in the realm of unchanging and unbending consistency.
This is true of those who are on the other end of the political and religious spectrum, who are also consistent to the end and to a fault. Without tempering consistency with necessary adaptability and creativity to meet the different requirements of each and every generation, atrophy in Jewish political and religious life will certainly set in.
Holding on and preserving the baby while allowing the bathwater to drain away is really the great talent necessary in today's Jewish life. This requires wisdom and fortitude, courage and foresight. Even though these are rare and difficult commodities to acquire, we have no choice but to try to be certain that they exist within us and that they govern the direction of our future.