Need for Organized Religion?

August 20, 2011 | by

Can I be a good person and have a relationship with God – but not subscribe to any religion?

I am a very spiritual person, yet not religious. Every day I wake up in the morning and say my prayers. On my travels, I thank God when I arrive safely. I look up at the sky every morning and feel inside this spirituality when I speak to God. I feel warm knowing that He is with me and a part of me, during my difficult times as well as the good times. Therefore, feeling what we do is so important. For without it, prayer and our religion is meaningless.

Why is organized religion so important? Why can't I, who does not go to synagogue and pray, not be as good a person and Jew as someone who goes every day? What I feel in my heart and head is just as important and what is read aloud, chanted and discussed in a synagogue.

The Aish Rabbi Replies

This really gets down to the whole issue of "letter of the law" versus "spirit of the law." "Letter of the law" involves performing an act because it is prescribed by the Torah and the Code of Jewish Law. "Spirit of the law" is performing an act because one's inner emotional sense propels one to experience the spiritual feeling the act intends to arouse.

An example of this is giving charity. The Torah commands us to give 10 percent of our income to charity. This letter of the law is intended to develop within us feelings of compassion for our fellow man (the spirit of the law).

Of course, the best is to have both. But given the choice of one or the other, which is actually more crucial?

Let's examine the following case from Dennis Prager: Two people (of equal wealth) are each approached by a poor woman who needs money for her daughter's cancer surgery. One of these, upon hearing the woman's plight, feels a deep sense of compassion, and amidst tears, gives the woman a dollar. The other wasn't nearly as moved, in fact he was in a hurry and couldn't talk to the woman. But because he follows Jewish law, requiring that 10 percent of his income go to charity, he gave the woman $100 dollars. So who is the "better person"?

Judaism would love you to give 10 percent of your income from your heart. It suspects, however, that in a large majority of cases, were we to wait for people's hearts to prompt them to give away thousands of dollars annually, we would be waiting a very long time. Judaism says: Give 10 percent - and if your heart catches up, terrific. In the meantime, a lot of good had been done.

The lesson of all this? "Doing" is more important than "feeling." And this is one of the great lessons that Jews could teach today's world which celebrates feelings. "How do you feel about it?" is not the Jewish question. "What do you do about?" is the Jewish question.

Another great lesson is the Jewish belief that the deed shapes the heart, far more than the heart shapes the deed. The idea is that human emotions (our insides) are affected by our physical actions (our outsides). You will find this concept throughout Judaism, which is in fact why we have 613 mitzvot. They guide us and direct us in ways which refine our character through repetition and practice.

Jews living within a Torah framework provide a world of practical benefits, both to the individual, and to the community. Because once a Jew is in the framework of giving charity, for example, we can appeal to his sense of character, and try to sensitize him to the importance of giving with the proper intention.

Plus, this aids tremendously in inculcating one's children with these values. If the idea of giving charity is a command from the Creator, that carries a lot more weight than "your parents thinks it's a good idea." It is difficult to transmit a "feeling," whereas mitzvot provide a solid framework for transmission.


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