Introduction to the laws of Daily Living in Judaism
Judaism is not merely a body of law. It is a mindset, a way of life.
Some have the misconception that Jewish practice is confined to the synagogue, or to an occasional holiday celebration at home. In fact, Torah and mitzvot punctuate every moment of our lives: setting standards for business ethics, proper speech, honoring parents, what we eat, how to care for pets, and – believe it or not! – even how to tie our shoes!
We refer to these set of laws as "Torat Chaim," literally "instructions for living." God created the world and He knows the best way to live in it. Whatever the issue, Torah is the ultimate "owner's manual" for maximizing our pleasure and potential in life. And it was out of love that God revealed to us these instructions.
The word "mitzvah" is from a root meaning "to bind"; every mitzvah creates an eternal bond between our soul and God.1
The power of mitzvot is that they not only bring us close to God, but that they deliver this pleasure – in the form of practical, observable benefits that enrich our daily lives.
It is a basic Jewish principle that God wants human beings to have maximum pleasure. The birthplace of mankind, the Garden of Eden, comes from a word meaning "pleasure."2
Yet we do not keep God's commandments simply because they benefit us. The Jews who received the Torah at Mount Sinai said "Na'aseh v'Nishma" – we agree to keep all the mitzvot, even before we understand them. Based on God's track record (delivering the Ten Plagues, splitting the Sea, sending a daily supply of manna, etc.), they were willing to accept the mitzvot – even if they did not immediately recognize a practical benefit.
About this Course
The only way to achieve the benefit of mitzvot is to perform them correctly. One who does not study halacha (the laws), cannot possibly hope to achieve the desired "pleasure" result, much in the same way that any advanced machine cannot be utilized without first reading the instruction manual.
The classic Code of Jewish Law, the Shulchan Aruch, is divided into four main sections. The first section, Orach Chaim (lit: way of life), deals with the rhythms of Jewish life – prayer, holidays, etc.
The majority of this 43-part course is based on topics in Orach Chaim. The goal is to present a general introduction to these topics, and to encourage further study. Topics include (partial list):
- Prayer & Blessings
- Financial Laws
- Women & Mitzvot
- Children & Halacha
- Interpersonal Responsibilities
- Proper Speech
- Honoring Parents
- Torah Study
- Tzitzit & Tefillin
- Land of Israel
We will explore the underlying philosophy of the various mitzvot, as well as an assortment of laws that most commonly occur.
Of course, after learning the technical halacha, the key is to "put the spiritual feeling" back into it. Otherwise, one may come to do mitzvot out of habit and rote4 – a perverted approach that is cited as having contributed to the destruction of the Holy Temple. 5
For after all, Judaism is not merely a body of law. It is a mindset. It is Orach Chaim, a way of life.
Each class in this course includes a 10-question "multiple-choice test" that you can take online. By pressing "submit," you will automatically receive a test score, along with the correct answers.
By logging into "My Account," you can keep track of your test scores as you proceed through the course.
All 43 classes in the Daily Living course have tests, with the exception of this introductory lesson.
Throughout this course, we will be encountering various blessings that are said on a regular basis. To facilitate learning, we have provided audio versions, in both Ashkenazi and Sefardi pronunciations. Although modern spoken Hebrew generally follows Sefardi pronunciation, someone of Ashkenazi descent should pronounce all prayers with Ashkenazi pronunciation.6
We have also provided printable text of the blessings, with Hebrew, English translations, and transliterations. For Ashkenazi pronunciation, please note the following transliteration rules:
- å is pronounced like the first syllable in awesome
- t (underlined) is pronounced like the letter S.