As my identity develops, I constantly question Judaism and the relevance of God and the mitzvot—commandments—in my life and our history. Are we obligated to worship a higher figure? What is the purpose of these actions? Traditionally, we observe the mitzvot because God commanded us to do so; however, mitzvot are obligations that require intention as well as action.
Ever since I was a young girl, I have been interested in the forces that shape our lives. I have been interested in how we can make an impact and uplift the mundane in our every day; I interpret the mitzvot as methods of doing so. They 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.
Others may argue that we observe the mitzvot only because we were commanded to do so by God at Sinai, without any other reason or meaning. With this mindset, some measure their religiosity by their habitual actions rather than the meaning of mitzvot. Doing mitzvot can be seen as a means to purify oneself for God. As Abraham Heschel states in his book God In Search Of Man, God commanded us to do mitzvot, so we must be loyal to God and are indebted to God for creating life and giving us the miracle, Earth. In contrast, I believe that using the mitzvot for global betterment allows for freedom of thought and critical thinking. The mitzvot were created to maintain our righteousness, but righteousness and how we embody it depends on each of us, so we must interpret our tradition to maintain individuality, not just follow the mitzvot blindly.
As stated in the Torah, “On the seventh day God finished his work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He has done” (Genesis 2:3). 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 stems from, Shabbat is a stress-free day where I can sit with my thoughts and myself. It allows me to be with family and friends and to strengthen relationships with others and with nature, without screens.
Although halacha—Jewish law—calls for prayer three times a day, due to my availability, I pray in the morning and night. On Shabbat, prayer is extra special because it opens the day of rest, motivating me to love and care more deeply—to recognize beauty, in all its forms. 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.”
The very act of serving—giving charity, time, advice, support, and smiles—pulls us away from our egos and into our souls. As we create peace in ourselves, we further contribute to our communities.
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