A World of Love and Care

Questioning my Judaism is something I do often as my identity is still developing. I have always questioned the relevance of God and the mitzvot in my life and in our history. Are we obligated to worship a higher figure through these commandments? What do these actions give to us? Over the past few years, I have adapted some of these mitzvot to fit into my life and have started to answer these questions. Traditionally we observe the mitzvot because God commanded us to do so, and therefore we do. However, I believe that the mitzvot are obligations as humans to make our world a better place and to strive for peace.

Ever since I was a young girl I have been interested in the forces that shape our lives and how we can make an impact. I have read countless “self-help” books and articles to find ways to understand and transform our lives and emphasize the mundane in our everyday. Over the course of my Jewish education, I have interpreted the mitzvot as ways to make us better people, to make us more caring, more loving, and more concerned. The mitzvot are not magic. They do not help God nor do they earn us rewards, but they are valuable for the way in which they improve our character and thereby benefit the society in which we live. We were taught that the mitzvot were created to keep the Jewish people righteous just like Abraham was.For example, as stated in the Tanach, “On the seventh day God finished work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He has done.” (Genesis 2:3) From this, at Mount Sinai, God commanded us “[To] remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)

In my interpretation of this commandment and where it stemmed from, I allow for the Sabbath to be a stress-free day where I can sit with my thoughts and myself. It allows me to be with family and friends and not have a screen in the way. It allows for an improvement of relationships; to other people, to nature, and to the world. In just a 24 hour period, you can fall in love with this world and can see how much it has to offer. For example, there is a new organization called Reboot, created by Jews for Jews, in which their goal is to have more and more millennials and the Jewish community in general, remove themselves from electronics on Shabbat and allow for a rekindling connection with each other and the world around them. Although Jewish tradition calls for prayer three times a day, to my availability, I pray in the morning and night. Especially on Shabbat, prayer is extra special because it is the opening to the day of rest. It motivates me to love and care more. To emphasize the beauty of the world and of the human race.

Similarly, Mordechai Kaplan explains in his book “Judaism As A Civilization”, “The normal human being is exhilarated by any kind of ritual which gives him a sense of unity with the larger life of some group. In sharing that life, his own is redeemed from its dull and drab routine.” It can be uplifting to know that what you are doing is similar to something that millions of other Jews are doing and how it connects us all.

As well, observing the mitzvot has enabled me to be more involved in my Jewish community. I have been running Midnight Runs at my synagogue and school as well as teaching the younger generation about these mitzvot as an obligation to make this world a better place, to seek peace, and why Judaism is truly such a wonderful and powerful religion. Giving money to charity, giving time, giving advice, giving feedback, giving support, giving a kind word or giving a smile makes you feel elevated. This very act of serving pulls us away from our egos and into our souls. As we create peace with ourselves and our souls, we are able to put more on the table for the community. By enriching ourselves, we make the work we do for our community and our world that much better. It is proven that there is a direct relationship between how we feel as an individual and how we feel on a global view. Observing the mitzvot contributes to these feelings as they enhance many emotions and thoughts.

Others may argue and go on to say that we only observe the mitzvot because we were commanded to by God at Sinai, but for no other reason or meaning. With this mindset, some measure their religiosity by their everyday actions rather than the higher goals of life such as education, relationships, and creating a family. Furthermore, they view observing the mitzvot as a way to purify themselves and make themselves holy for God.

As Abraham Heschel states in his book “God In Search Of Man,” “He is waiting to enter our deeds through our loyalty to His law.” Heschel talks on the fact that since God commanded us to do these commandments that we have to be loyal to him and that we owe him for creating life and giving us the miracle, Earth. Contrastingly, using the mitzvot for global betterment allows for freedom of thought and critical thinking. It allows the individual to be an individual and let them walk their own path however they want to interpret these ancient beliefs as well as the path of their ancestors.
Our society has been turned into such a fast-paced, rushed “community” with standards created for people by people to live up to. It creates conflict and it creates overwhelming and chronic stress. Like Oprah Winfrey once said “The human brain just wasn’t designed to handle the environment we inhabit.” I believe that Judaism slows this phenomenon down. To me, it is like a pause button, on Shabbat, on weekdays, holidays, whenever I pray, I no longer worry about everything I worry about throughout the week. I focus on the melodies, the words, and let it warm my heart. I believe that by practicing something that has been practiced for thousands of years it grounds us and bring us back to middle ground that many people strive to get to. I believe that observing mitzvot and being a Jew can help us understand this developing society by taking a step out of it when we observe these ancient commandments.

All in all, I believe that the mitzvot are obligations as humans to make our world a better place and to strive for peace. Many follow these commandments to create a “communion with Him” (Heschel 286) and be pure. While others use these commandments to create “a universe of sense experience” (Kaplan 435) and to promote well being and positivity in the world. My first thought on the mitzvot was that you were no longer a Jew if you did not observe them if you did not believe that everything you did in Judaism was for God, yet over the years, I have proved myself wrong. While it may not be the same thought that our ancestors had on how to be a Jew, I learned that if you feel connected with yourself and with your community that you can adapt the mitzvot however you would like them to fit to your life and still be Jewish.

 

 

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