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“Why Do Jewish?” for the Twitter Generation

April 10, 2016 | by Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman

The commandments are not a burden nor an all-or-nothing system. They are an opportunity and a privilege.

The other day I was asked by a mother to explain to her 12-year-old son, who was putting up a fight every night about practicing his Haftarah, why it is important to have a Bar Mitzvah. She wanted my answer to the “Why be Jewish?” question in a sound-byte that would miraculously rectify 12 years of an insufficient Jewish educational background.

I prefer to rephrase the question to “Why do Jewish?” because a Jew is a Jew if s/he was born to a Jewish mother or went through a proper conversion. A Jew asking “Why be Jewish?” is akin to asking a horse “Why be a horse?” It makes no sense. Also, the most important thing in Judaism is not beliefs, but action – the performance of mitzvot (commandments).

So here’s my answer to “Why do Jewish?” for the Twitter generation.

Judaism provides a divinely given value system to live by, and the best way for Jews to have a relationship with God.

Let’s delve into my answer:

“Judaism is a divinely given value system to live by” – one dozen of the hundreds of values that Judaism purports include: Bal Tash’chit – conserving natural resources; Tikkun Olam – making the world a better place; Tzaar Baalei Chayim – being kind to animals; Ahavat Yisrael – unconditionally loving every Jew; Rodef Shalom – pursuing peace; Tzedakah – helping the poor; Bikkur Cholim – visiting the sick; Hachnasat Orchim – hospitality; Kibud Av v’Eym – honoring parents; Hiddur P’nai Zaken – esteeming the elderly; Pikuach Nefesh – saving a life; and, of course, Shabbat – a weekly cessation from the mundane to focus on family and to spiritually recharge.

Other religions have borrowed many of these concepts from us, but there is a uniquely Jewish way to understand and to concretize each of these values.

The second part of my answer – “Judaism provides the best way for a Jew to have a relationship with God” – that “way” is through doing mitzvot, which comes from the Hebrew word ‘connection.”

Contrary to what one may have learned in Hebrew school, mitzvot are not a burden nor an all-or-nothing system; they are an opportunity and a privilege. Every mitzvah a Jew does brings more goodness into the world, strengthens one’s relationship with God, and has eternal value.

Of the Torah’s 613 commandments, since the Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists (may it be rebuilt speedily), only 48 positive mitzvot (i.e., the “do’s”) and 222 negative mitzvot (i.e., the don’t do’s) are in effect today.

Of these 48 positive mitzvot, five of the most well-known daily ones include: putting on tefillin, saying the Shema every morning and evening, learning Torah every morning and evening, giving Tzedakah, and keeping Kosher. While two of the most important weekly mitzvot are lighting Shabbat Candles (18 minutes before sundown on Friday) and reciting Kiddush (a special blessing over a cup of wine or grape juice) on Friday night.

If a Jew wants to make a positive contribution to the world, the first place to start is by taking steps to work on living according to Jewish values. Every step makes a difference in the world and deepens your relationship with God.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg z”l, The founder of Aish HaTorah, used to teach the maxim that “Judaism is for our pleasure and fulfillment.” But you can only taste how it enhances one’s life and imbues it with pleasure if you do it. Do Jewish. Try it. You’ll like it.

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