Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Does God Want Mitzvot?

As a young adult I started asking existential questions about the meaning of life, spirituality, and God. After finishing college I came to Israel in order to take a deeper look into the Jewish tradition for answers.

After an introduction to the intricacies of halacha (Jewish law) I was disturbed by several issues. First of all, traditional Judaism related to a mitzvah as an absolute requirement, not as a good deed as I had been taught in my Reform upbringing. This sounded very imposing.

Secondly, why must the halachic system dictate each and every daily activity? Where is the autonomy? And most importantly, where is the spirituality that I was seeking? Where was the God amidst all this halacha?

I found a midrash (Bereishit Rabbah Chapter 44) that helped me begin to formulate an answer to these issues.

The midrash asks: Does God really care if I do the ritual slaughter from the front of the neck or the back of the neck?

In other words, does God care about all the halachic hair-splitting found in the Talmud?

The midrash answers: The mitzvot were only given to refine us.

The mitzvot are not for God, but rather for us. They are a divinely orchestrated spiritual system designed to help us reach our maximum potential. Each mitzvah in its own unique way can move our consciousness from selfishness to selflessness, from craving to caring. Every aspect of life, even the most seemingly mundane acts, can become a tool for growth and connection.

This work is incumbent on all of us; we were created in order to better the world, not to destroy it. Halacha, from the word “to walk,” guides us on a path towards God’s ultimate desire for humanity. This is the path of Jewish spirituality.

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