Friday, February 10, 2023

The WHY of Judaism

As we once again read and study Parshas Yisro, it is a great time to review the fundamentals of Judaism. Parshas Yisro contains the Divine Revelation to the Jewish People, which makes the audacious claim that this was a national experience unlike any religion. The Jewish People accepted the Torah, and its sacred mission was embraced by our ancestors and passed down from generation to generation.  When people are asked about Judaism and its practices, the general responses are centered around the "WHAT" and "HOW." For example, most observant Jews can describe WHAT Shabbos is about. The more learned people can instruct us on how to observe Shabbos properly. There are hundreds of chapters in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) on how to keep Shabbos properly. However, there is another essential element to Shabbos in particular and Judaism in general. That is the WHY of Shabbos and Judaism. If one is proficient in the WHAT and HOW but lacks an understanding of the WHY, there is a fundamental deficiency in the individual Avodas Hashem (service of G-d). People that forget the WHY and just focus on the WHAT and HOW are in danger of having the Mitzvos become mindless rituals. If a person's relationship with Judaism is performing rituals, he is in danger of becoming "burned out." Furthermore, the prospects of our precious heritage being passed down to the next generation are at risk. Who can blame the youth and the future of the Jewish people for not being excited about what they perceive as mindless rituals?  If one focuses on the WHY of Judaism, one not only has an appreciation of the Mitzvah but the attitude and performance of the Mitzvah are entirely different. This week's Parsha of Yisro reminds us of why G-d proposed that the Jewish People accept the Torah. It was that we should become the “Kingdom of Kohanim and a Holy Nation". The basic understanding of this lofty idea is that we should become flag bearers of Holiness and Godliness in this finite world. The Mitzvahs that the Torah teaches us to practice and perform are there for mortal beings to become holy and have a relationship with an eternal and loving infinite G-d. For example, when one makes Kiddush on Shabbos, he can infuse the mundane (cup of wine) with Holiness and Godliness. The mundane world we spend time in is filled with opportunities to elevate the ordinary with holiness. The WHAT and HOW is described in the Torah in detail. It's essential to never lose sight of our WHY. As someone once remarked, "if you know the WHY, you can live any HOW." Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch.

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