Ah, Jewish law, one of the fascinating aspects of Judaism is the laws, in Hebrew known as “mitzvot” commandments. I have to begin by stating that I’m curious about the perception non-Jewish people have about Jewish law and the “commandments”. I’d been taught that Jews feel weighted down by the burden of all the laws that govern kashrus, Shabbat, business dealings and so much more.
While I believe that might be true in some respects, I haven’t come across a Jewish person that feels overwhelmed by religious Jewish life. Rather, the Jewish spirit seems to be inspired by the complexities and sometimes contradictions of Jewish life. Many Jews I’ve encountered approach their faith through an intellectual, as well as, heart place. They recognize that Judaism has been interpreted by our people so many different ways for thousands of years and that’s ok. But we see that it’s necessary to take history into consideration when discussing aspects of Jewish law. And one needs to also consider and understand that religion and practice evolves with time.
People say “oh what of this, how sad, its religion made of man”. Well, all spirituality and religion has a basis of being of man because it’s a man or woman engaged in the act of practice. What’s wrong with that?
In an article titled An Ethical Dilemma: When Mitzvot Collide by Rabbi Charles E. Simon, the concept of what happens when two commandments aka “value concepts” collide. An example Rabbi Simon cited was when a man was worried about violating Shabbat in order to attend a party honoring his teacher’s 100th birthday. Of course the man wanted to attend this momentous occasion but was torn by his practice. He told his friend he wouldn’t be able to attend and was met with the response “Don’t worry about it. I understand. Maybe you’ll be there for my 200th.”
In this article, Rabbi Simon cites “positive” commandments; a Jew honoring Shabbat is the act of observing a positive commandment. But what happens when there are two positive commandments at stake at the same time? Simple: “If you can’t figure it out, perhaps someone else will.”
Can it be that simple? I know the simplicity of it might be construed as compromise, yet in many situations in life there are compromises made even though some might be uncomfortable with that.
And what happened with the gentlemen with the friend’s 100th birthday celebration? Well, he went to the celebration, understanding that a person’s 100th birthday only happens once, that it’s an amazing milestone and that Shabbat will roll around again next week.
I believe this situation embodies the best of the Jewish spirit – not shrinking back from complexities; engaging respect for tradition, Jewish law and recognizing the times lived in. It was a great article and helped me understand more about the heart of Jewish life and my role in it.