Cross posted with slight modifications at Out of the Ortho Box – thanks for the opportunity Ruchi!
” Why do I need to worry about all these commandments? I’ll just be a good person and not bother others. I don’t steal, kill, or commit adultery. Really, that’s what matters in the grand scheme of things. “
And other Jews who say,
“The important thing, what makes us Jewish, is our relationship with God. Prayer, kosher, Shabbat – these are the central Jewish tenets and hallmarks of religiosity.”
Ruchi’s conclusion is that both parties are half-right. And half-wrong. They have each only acknowledged half of Judaism.
Ruchi is right. Being an active, thinking Jew is more than just being a good person, and it’s more than just keeping kosher. There is a phrase from our tefillah, “The World stands on three things: Torah, Worship, and Acts of Loving-kindness”
Not just one of these things, but all three.
#1: Torah (Written – 5 Books of Moses; Oral – Mishnah/Talmud): The Jewish Way as we know it. Kosher, Shabbat, marriage, birth, death, business ethics, etc. It’s all in there. How each person interprets it . . . well, that’s a whole other post! But we must acknowledge its place in our DNA, and find ways to incorporate its spirit, if not always its letter, into our lives. However, it can’t be our ONLY thing.
#2: Worship: Fairly obvious. Except, it’s not. Many of us think of prayer as something we do a couple of times a year in a big room filled with lots of people and questionable art. Or maybe a Shabbat service here and there. And for many people, “prayer” hangs over them as a prescribed thing that is in a relatively foreign language and said to a deity in which one may or may not believe. I’m here to say that, at least for me, “prayer” = the hopes that I have, the dreams that I have, the gratitude that I have, and how I express all of that and acknowledge the Divine presence in my life. It’s rarely in the form of what is in our prayer-books. It is, however, a part of my daily life. I think it’s integral to being a conscious Jew – being conscious others and of the world around you. Like #1, it can’t be the only thing you do. Being pious in prayer alone does NOT = good Jew.
#3: Acts of Loving-kindness: “good deeds”. Chesed. Charity. Being a good person. We all strive for this! But it has to go hand-in-hand with #1 & #2.
1+2+3 = 1. A whole Jew. How we incorporate these things into our lives is as unique as our fingerprints, but we can’t go “halfsies” on this. This is our challenge: be a full Jew.