The Way of Mitzvot: Responding to God
In this fourth unit, through various quotes and texts written by Rabbi Sacks, the path to God through Mitzvot will be explored. Mitzvot in the thought of Rabbi Sacks represent “miniature acts of redemption”, elevating the secular to holiness, bringing God into our world, becoming His partner in creation, ultimately leading to a universal redemption of the world. Most importantly, mitzvot are “truth lived” making Judaism unique as a religion of action rather than merely contemplation and thought.
Judaism’s genius was to take high ideals and translate them into life by simple daily deeds: the way of mitzvot, acting in accordance with God’s will. We do not just contemplate truth: we live it.
We don’t contemplate creation by studying theoretical physics. We live it by making a blessing over what we eat and drink, acknowledging God as the creator of all we enjoy. We don’t think about our responsibility for the environment. We keep Shabbat, setting a limit, one day in seven, to our exploitation of the world. We don’t just study Jewish history. On the fasts and festivals, we re-enact it. Truth becomes real when it becomes deed. That is how we transform the world.
There are those who see the world as it is and accept it. That is the stoic way. There are those who see the world as it is and flee from it. That is the mystic, monastic way. But there are those who see the world as it is and change it. That is the Jewish way. We change it through mitzvot, holy deeds that bring a fragment of heaven down to earth.
Every mitzvah is a miniature act of redemption. It turns something secular into something holy. When we keep kashrut we turn food for the body into sustenance for the soul. When we keep Shabbat we sanctify time, making space in our life to breathe and give thanks, celebrating what we have instead of striving for what we do not yet have. When we observe the festivals we sanctify history by turning it into personal memory, forging a connection between our ancestors’ past and our present. When we keep the laws of teharat hamishpachah, family purity, we turn a physical relationship into a sacred bond of love.
The mitzvot bring God into our lives through the intricate choreography of a life lived in accordance with God’s will. They are the poetry of the everyday, turning life into a sacred work of art.
Mitzvot teach us that faith is active, not passive. It is a matter of what we do, not just what happens to us. Performing a mitzvah, we come close to God, becoming His ‘partner in the work of creation.’ Every mitzvah is a window in the wall separating us from God. Each mitzvah lets God’s light flow into the world.
The educational aims for this unit are for students to:
- Consider the role and impact of mitzvot in Judaism in general and in the thought of Rabbi Sacks in particular
- Understand the difference between the three categories of mitzvot: Mishpatim, Chukim, and Edot
- Consider examples from these three categories in order to explore them further
- Consider whether Judaism is a religion of thought and faith primarily or action and ritual