Like I said I was going to prove a few things to my best-est friend (and myself) this week about being a practicing and rational Jew. After his three weeks at Yeshiva, he had a few pointed questions for me and I didn't feel my answers were complete enough. So I set out to explain myself but it seems that Rabbi Bachman, as always, beat me to the punch.
But I am going further into a more theoretical question of my reasons for sticking to the bread that sticks to my insides for seven days.
Rabbi Richard Levy asks in A Vision of Holiness “Are [Mitzvot] commandments (given from without) or obligations (accepted from within)” (50)? He answers his question by utilizing another omnipotent relationship in his life, his marriage.
His wife told him that the idea of a commandment from God is like saying from one partner to another “This is something very important to me that you do.” He continue by implying that the free will to do otherwise makes the act of doing such a thing proof to the strength of the relationship. So regardless of the desire to do that act, doing so brings joy and pleasure to your partner.
Clearly Rabbi Levy doesn’t equate the relationship between partners to that of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. However this kind of language helps to explain the idea of partnership in creation between God and the Jews. Clearly creation continues as we continue to discover new things in the world, scientifically and otherwise, but we are able to see the benefits of remaining committed to doing something that is very important to someone or something we love and care about; so we do mitzvot – or at least the ones that we can do for that sake.
Reform Judaism, back in the day, called upon Jews to get rid of the mitzvot that were only connected to sacrifice and had nothing to do with the elevation of our spirit. Examples such as mixing fabrics or keeping kosher are often used to make this point. What does not having a cheese burger have to do with the coming of a messianic era? Welcoming the strange appears 36 times in the Torah while nixing two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun is in there about twice.
In favor of Moral Obligations, these ritual or ceremonial laws were placed aside in the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885. The idea isn’t that Reform Judaism gets rid of obligation or even commandments, but takes an active role in defining said commandments in a modern light.
Many Reform Jews may disagree with me on this point, but keeping kosher to me is simply to slow down and think about the fact that we are lucky/blessed to have something to eat when others do not. Keeping kosher has nothing to do with the idea that particular cuts of an animal are unclean because a biblical character (who may or may not have even existed) busted his hip while wresting an angle in a dreamy slumber.
So why do I keep the Seder? Why do I afflict myself with flat dry nasty excuses for bread? Why do I remember to count the Omer? And why do I continue to try to learn the story of the Orange on the Seder plate? I do this because being pleasing to the idea of my heritage is pleasing to me. It is said that it is pleasing to God. I don’t care nor do I need to know – for fact – that God exists for this to work for me; I think it is more than simple faith.
The ideals and principles of Judaism have been around for a while now and have helped many a person deal with these issues. And modern rational thinking has been around now for a while, also helping people deal with such commitment issues. My God demands certain things from me. If it is not to wear linen with cotton and wool and not to turn on a light on Shabbat, then I am not doing what is pleasing to God, but there are many things that I do that I think God would like very much. So like in any real adult and rational relationship, God and I are working through our differences and meeting on common ground.
That is why I continue to eat Matzah and read the same-old first-half of the Hagadah. There are lessons to be learned in all of this, the rituals and the morals of the stories every day. And that I what I believe and that is what I will teach my children. I will also teach my children they must learn to then make the choice; not simply learn and then accept.