“Habit is dangerous. It forces its way into a person quietly, like a thief.” (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
The Hebrew word for habitual behaviour is “hergel”. It is related to the word “regel”, which means foot. Walking is one of those activities that we usually do without giving it much thought. We are usually thinking about other things while we are walking and don’t really focus on our walking itself. “Hergel” describes many of the things we do in life mindlessly and mechanically. Our spiritual teachers regularly warned us about the erosion of our spiritual practices by becoming routine and rote. (See Isaiah 29:13)
Of course there are many useful habits worth developing in life. Brushing and flossing our teeth or exercising regularly. But when it comes to our spiritual activities and personal interactions – they should never devolve into mere habits. It is wonderful to try and greet people with a smile and a hello when we meet them. But it shouldn’t become a mindless habit where we are not fully present or sincere.
We should pray every day – but out of conviction, out of desire, out of commitment, out of love – but not out of habit.