Mitzvot: Particularistic Practices to Promote Universal Truths

In my previous post, I discussed the Jewish prayer Asher Yatzar. I’d like to continue this Jewish theme. The truth is, when I started writing a little more than a decade ago, all of my essays were Jewish-themed. I was raised Modern Orthodox, attended religious schools my whole life, spent an intense year of religious study in seminary in Israel post high school. While I was excited to get to wear jeans every day when I began attending secular college, this change in daily outerwear couldn’t negate the 18 years of religious immersion I had experienced.

So when I started writing the year after my father died, when I was 22, I felt most comfortable incorporating Jewish concepts—the weekly parsha, interesting Jewish philosophy books I had read, etc. Plus, my mother had always been an avid learner of Chumash (i.e. Bible) and Talmud—including giving talks in our synagogue when I was a kid, so I figured it was in my blood (as well as my breast milk—well, that is, her breast milk, you get the idea…)

A few years into my regular writing practice, my voice began to express itself without the added ideas that Judaism had taught me, but rather purely from observing life and feeling what came up for me from certain circumstances. I’m sure at times subconsciously my writing was influenced by Jewish practices and concepts, but it was no longer in an obvious manner.

Well, now and then, I enjoy delving into Jewish topics, so I’d like to continue the theme that I began yesterday.

Today, I’d like to discuss my experience peeling and cutting eggs this morning. It will relate to Judaism—I promise!…

I really didn’t want to prepare the lunches for today—I wanted to keep getting work done on my computer. After all I woke up at the crack of dawn, can’t I just do what I want?!

Well, no, I can’t because both I and my one-year-old daughter need to eat today. So I started preparing our lunches and snacks for our nine-hour day at preschool.

This is when I realized how mitzvot—Jewish commandments—teach us about life. Mitzvot provide our life with structure, with dos and don’ts. Growing up, it was always about learning what each mitzvah was, and striving to do as many as possible. Now I like to think more about the underlying lessons of them—while practicing them as best as I can (without pressuring myself!).

Mitzvot are specific actions—613, to be exact, but they provide 1 universal idea: doing things even when we don’t feel like it.

This idea can indeed be cultivated without performing the mitzvot, but performing the mitzvot deepens and refines this concept within our psyche.

The truth is, I am still racking my brain over the balance of living in the “real world,” and living as a religious Jew. I by no means intend to provide the answer to solve this existential conundrum. But rather to chip away at it—one small, quiet insight at a time.

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