Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Dos and don’ts of doing the Commandments

It is worse than boring to read stuff that says only what you know or expected already. I won’t do this to you — promise. And still, I will write nothing new.

It would be wrong to do the Divine Commandments as if it were our nature to obey. We are inclined to make our own choices (bechirah chofshit) and be autonomous, not to follow orders. Pretending to be bound by G^d’s will is falsehood. We have a choice, so the best we can do is to choose to be bound to serve our Creator.

Nature (planets, plants and animals) do as they are told – they never even think of diverting. The blessing over the new moon (birkat halevanah) every month comes to tell us that His planets and stars do so happily (sassim usmeichim). Creatures are happy when we are ourselves, when we can act as fits our nature and when we are useful. They do it so well that we conclude (the blessing by saying) that it is G^d Himself (ata) Who renews the months (mechadeish chodoshim).

Creation does not have the permanency that it seems to have. The moment G^d would stop His constant detailed supervision (hashgachah p’ratit), every aspect of the Universe would fall apart a split second later. This comes to teach us that we should not obey on a one-time intension or decision. We need to choose every split second anew to comply. So, we should serve with intention (kavanah), not on the automatic pilot.

As this blessing says, G^d wants us to be a reliable (emet) servant which also means truthful – so that He too will abide by His Word to provide. (It’s not that G^d would ever break His promise to love us and take care of us. He’s not like the incompetent partner who says: I give you only if you give. Rather, He will give, but He can’t give us too, if we don’t give.)

So we should not go through life pretending to be naturally obedient, to be a robot or a willing slave (avadim ha-yinu). The main thing that prevents and indicates that is that we are commanded to serve Him happily. Slaves can be proud to be capable, relieved to suffice and gotten used to obeying, but that is not happiness. The commanded happiness is not an embellishment (hidur); it is a major obligatory part of all Commandments (besimchah uvtuv leivav – Deuteronomy 28:47).

It is also not correct is to pretend that G^d needs us or our obedience. That is serving an idol (avoda zara’), one of the worst sins. Rather, G^d is Self-sufficient and Perfect, and all the Commandments are for our own good only (end of Deuteronomy 10:13). We needs them to reach our potential, and He gave them to us because He loves us.

Therefore it is wrong to assign greater priority to serving G^d over serving people. The world needs us. And G^d loves all of His children and Creation, and if we overlook them, we mistreat Him too. The Jewish way is not to lock yourself up into serving Him while ignoring the world. We need to serve both and our priority must lie with all of His Creation (our close ones, the Jews, all humans, animals, plants, the environment).

When it’s very hard to obey, know that the shoulds are only for people who are helped by high (but relaxed) expectations. But of course we may be obedient because we want to (Ethics of the Fathers 2:4), not because we should. We may read the Commandments in Hebrew as if it says that we will, not should (the same conjugation in Hebrew). Many Commandment have set times, and once we did them we’re not obligated anymore (for the time being). But also, as long as we love to do His will and will do so, we can already consider ourselves exempt.

We may even force ourselves to serve Him, or do so half-heartedly, if that’s all we got. But obviously that cannot go on forever, so we need to progress from that state and learn and contemplate enough to get to a situation that we would love to and will serve our Lover in the sky.

We should serve Him out of love (me’ahavah). Loving a person is doing their bidding, not because otherwise the relationship gets hurt but totally focused on the other. It’s our heart’s bidding, not to receive anything in return. Rather, such giving is a proper expression of us.

However, though it is best to serve G^d from our love for Him, we are allowed to do it from fear (me-yirah). Scared of punishment, or greedily scared to miss out on reward. It’s not the best (or easiest) way to live (Ethics of the Fathers 1:3), but it still counts as virtuous. At least, then we can still hasten to obey (zerizut), which is important too.

We shouldn’t just obey; we must grow in our obedience too. It should be hard on us, not just a bed of roses. Rather than lullabies, we should sing activist songs. If our service would be exactly the same volume, level and quality as yesterday, then what for did we receive another day to live? There’s always room to improve and perfect keeping Commandments, add more of them, or advance the balance between them. The more we mastered easy facets of the Commandments, the more we’ll be capable to incorporate harder aspects into who we are. The more we keep improving, the easier it is to keep momentum (mitzvah goreret mitzvah).

About the Author
The author is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (DES - Diethylstilbestrol), born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a vegan for 8 years now. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach and lehavdiel bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, GLBTQAI, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quit a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500st blog post with the ToI. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. To see other blog posts by him, a second blog - under construction - can be found by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture.
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