It’s a free country, isn’t it?
Adapted from Parsha U’pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Translated and adapted by Rafaella Levine
Personally, I was never asked whether or not I wanted to be responsible for so many commandments and details of laws, and I certainly did not agree to the consequences in event of a slip-up. Why should anyone think, then, that I am supposed to keep the Torah, just because my parents are Jewish?
Four thousand years ago, the Jews stood around a mountain and made an agreement with G-d. They said, “yes, we want Your Torah, we want the myriad opportunities for closeness, and we are willing to bear the consequences if we turn away from you.” I don’t blame them for being that convinced. After all, they would have still been miserable slaves under the Egyptian task masters’ clubs had not G-d redeemed them with open miracles. They saw it, felt it, knew it. But how does that effect me? How would their commitment to the mitzvoth have any bearing on what I eat and how, or if, I pray?
The “contract” signed at Sinai is intense. It details the blessings of a life of closeness or the suffering we will bring upon ourselves as a result of not behaving as befits a nation of princes. The Jews alive at the time witnessed the Almighty’s presence, heard His voice, were saved by His open miracles. They were ready to make that commitment. But what about me? Why should I, and what if I don’t want to?
In this day and age, in our Western culture, we are accustomed to making our own choices and being in control, as much as possible, of our day to day lives. But being Jewish is not one of those things we get to decide upon. It’s our destiny. It’s the make-up of our souls. Did you get a say in the composition of your DNA? Well, you also don’t get to choose your soul’s path. Grafted into our spiritual DNA are the chromosomes of these 613 pathways towards G-d. That’s the blueprint of your life, it’s your manual for optimum living, being who you are.
Although we can’t choose our way out of the whole picture, we can choose our way into it. The more we learn and the more we understand – through doing it and living it – the more we are in the position to choose it – choose life – for ourselves. By keeping a mitzvah and quietly watching its impact on our inner lives, we will come to understand why our ancestors were so sure about their decision, and we will choose it for ourselves too.