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Judaism – Just a Religion?

By Rabbi Dovie Shochet

Have you ever felt that being Jewish can be limiting and restricting? Or have you perhaps viewed Yiddishkeit as a systematic rigid construct with no room for self-expression and passion? If the answer to the above is “No”, then this article is probably not for you. However, if the answer to the above is “Yes”, then  you you might want to keep reading.

From my personal experience and encounters with others, many ask, “Why does Hashem care if I flip a switch on Shabbos?” or “What difference do all these Mitzvos make to Hashem?” Whilst these are good questions, they stem, however, from a mistaken notion that Judaism is strictly a religion, when in truth it is so much more.

On Rosh Hashanah, we do not celebrate the creation of the world. We celebrate our relationship with Hashem. What Rosh Hashanah commemorates is Hashem wanting to have a relationship, so He created Adam and Chava. Hashem wanted to be loved, so He created you and me. This paradigm shift will help you see the Mitzvos in a whole new light.

There are three categories of Mitzvos: Testaments (Eidus), Statutes (Chukim) and Logical commands (Mishpatim). These three categories also reflect themselves in relationships that we have with our spouses, forr example;

Testaments – With Hashem, this for example, is when we celebrate the festivals as an affirmation and appreciation of Him looking after us. Correspondingly, with our spouse, it is when we celebrate special days, such as our anniversary or partners’ birthday, to appreciate and enhance our relationship.

Statutes – With Hashem, these are laws which make no sense to us such as not mixing wool and linen. Similarly in a marriage, sometimes a leap of faith is required to demonstrate your love.

Logical commands – With Hashem, these are obvious laws, such as not stealing or murdering. In the same way, with our spouse, there are obvious traits needed in order to create a thriving relationship, such as being honest and loyal.

In fact, we see that there are many instances throughout the Torah where it speaks about our relationship with Hashem and how He is often referred to as our spouse, as will now be explained.

Instead of viewing Mitzvos strictly as a list of commands, we should perceive them as opportunities to bond with our loved one. For example, Shabbos is not a day full of restrictions. Shabbos is a day when Hashem tells us, “Listen, I know you’ve been busy all week, but I miss you and I crave your attention. Please put down your phone and focus on me.” Nor should the idea of prayer be seen as a burden as something that we have to do three times a day, but instead as an opportunity to express ourselves to Hashem and tell Him, “I love you.”

Take a look at the days preceding Rosh Hashanah itself. The month of Elul is famously known as an acronym for, “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is unto me”. This is a time when Hashem tells us, “Listen, it’s been a long year. I’ve done some things you don’t like, you’ve done some things I don’t like, let’s bury the hatchet and start over.”

Nowadays, there exist many books that advise and give guidance for a successful marriage. The things one should avoid and the things one should pursue. The book of Halacha is our GPS guide for a successful marriage with Hashem. In fact, all too often, the word Halacha is loosely translated as “Jewish Law”, when a more literal translation means “Path”.

Yiddishkeit is not merely a religion, it is bond that we have with Hashem. Rosh Hashanah is the time when Hashem brought us into being so that we can have a relationship with Him. It is a time to have a fresh start at our marriage and to make this coming year the best one yet in our relationship.

Shanah Tovah!

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