Birthday Cake and Mitzvos

I’m reading a really good book about Family Purity called “Total Immersion.”  All the books I’ve read on the topic previously have been more dry and focused on the “how” of the mitzvah, not the “why” or deeper spiritual dimension and I’m really enjoying this chance to step back and sink deeper into those aspects.

One recurring theme is the relationship between us and Hashem.  Specifically, the idea of surrender in that relationship and the way that this can be practiced in the relationship between man and wife as well.  Some mitzvos are hard to understand, impossible even.  Even the ones that might make practical sense often could be done in more than one way.   In our human minds, we often can think of ways we could make a mitzvah more pleasant or adapt it to our modern lives.  Whole rifts and splits in Judaism have happened over this.

A perfect example could be Shabbos.  There are so many laws surrounding Shabbos observance and most of them are not concretely spelled out in the written Torah itself, but rather expounded upon by the Sages and Rabbis.  Just reading the Chumash, I could look and see that it’s a “day of rest” and come to the conclusion that I should just take a day off work and do whatever seems a good leisure activity, thanking Hashem for the chance to go for a nice drive into the woods and later cook a lavish meal for my family.  We could even throw in a couple of prayers of thanksgiving!  Instead, there are laws which sometimes seem to get in the way of “rest” or pleasure, like not being able to use hot water or watch a movie.

In my book, it points out that this all becomes much easier to understand if we look at the purpose behind all mitzvos, which is to connect to Hashem.  If we’re really doing a mitzvah out of love or awe of Hashem, then we’ll do it His way.  If we’re only doing a mitzvah for ourselves, it’s easier to justify doing it in the way that pleases us most.

Another example is my husband.  Mr. Safek has some, to me, unusual tastes and it was his birthday this week.  For his birthday, I asked him what meal I could make him that would please him.  He asked for his favorite foods and a chocolate cake with strawberry icing.  Because I love him, instead of arguing with him about what icing would be better or trying to alter the menu so that it had some of my favorite foods on it, I made the meal exactly as he had asked.  I did it because I love him and it’s his birthday and giving him exactly what he asked for is how I show my devotion to him.

If you believe the Torah, both written and oral, to be truly divine, then it’s clear that the mitzvos are the way they are because that is what Hashem is asking from us.  Like my husband, he wants to connect with me and give me that opportunity to do something for him and he’s given me specific instructions on what would please him.  Viewing it that way, altering the mitzvos to make them easier or more pleasant for me is like changing the menu for my husband’s birthday meal…suddenly it’s less about my love for him and more about my love for myself.

As we approach the giving of the Torah again, it was timely to me to read about this.  How often do I get lost in the details of observing a mitzvos and lost sight of the reason behind it?  How often might those details become more meaningful if I kept that focus, like how hunting for the right ingredients for a birthday meal is a lot more fun than just looking for ingredients for a meal that lacks a real purpose?

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