Does Judaism Make Sense?

Pesach, shaatnez, the Para Adumah, the kashrut laws, all the minutiae and details we Jews spend our lives studying and practicing…Does Judaism make sense?  I’d venture to say that it depends heavily on who is making “sense” of it.  Are there rational reasons for why these laws were commanded to us, ones that a person would understand?  Maybe. I’m sure if we try hard enough, we humans can analyze, reanalyze, and then turn the laws around and analyze them yet again. After all, this is what we are meant to do with the Torah. I’m equally sure that we’ll come to some sort of rational justification for complying with these laws in our time, as Rambam did in his.  But, are our notions of “sense” the same as G-d’s?  Do we humans have the right to tie our adherence to the mitzvot to our ability to make sense of them?  Moreover, why does the reasoning behind the mitzvot matter to us so much?

No one wants to look like a fool or do something he/she doesn’t understand the reason for, but G-d asks us to do several mitzvot that are difficult, if not impossible, to understand.  Around Pesach time, there seem to be more than our fair share of seemingly unreasonable, irrational actions in our lives.  Inevitably, we see the plethora of articles and jokes about Pesach prep and kitniyot and the level of cleaning to which we commit.  Gebroks or non-gebroks? OU Passover guide, CRC Passover guide, Star-K, Blumenkrantz — all of which say different things about what we are supposed to put away, how we’re supposed to kasher our home, and what foods/medicines/cleaning supplies are acceptable for use on Pesach.  Is it any wonder there are so many jokes about Pesach?  Is there any wonder people are frustrated, confused, and downright annoyed by the discrepancies in practices and variances in customs among different sets of Jews?

I’d like to suggest that we take a step back and think about WHY we do what we do as Jews.  Yes, of course, it’s because G-d commands us to do so; but there is more to observing mitzvot than just the onus of responsibility or the issue of reward vs. punishment.  What happened to the love and gratitude we had for G-d?  He took us out of slavery to be His people, not just to do what he said, but to represent Him in this world.  We Jews are still in existence because of G-d’s intervention throughout history.  We still hold dear the precious Torah we were given on Mt. Sinai 3,330 years ago.  We do so because we are eternally grateful to G-d for giving us meaning and the key to success in His world.  It’s no coincidence that despite the multitude of attempts to get rid of us, either by burning, gassing, gunshots, or bombing, we are still here, and we still hold true to our traditions and laws.  What is the Torah, if not G-d’s personal guidebook to getting the most out of the world He created?  How many times has G-d saved our butts?  How many times have we gone from rags to riches within different countries around the world?

On a personal note, I thank G-d for every day of my life.  I thank G-d for my children, my husband, and my parents.  I thank Him for my siblings and their families.  I thank Him for being able to see, hear, taste, smell, and feel.  I thank Him for being able to walk, talk, and think.  I thank Him for not putting us into a blank box with no color, no sounds, no beauty, no music.  Therefore, on a personal note, I’m not really inclined to question whether laws, strictures, or customs make sense, because the more self-discipline they invoke in me, the more I feel I am giving back to G-d and demonstrating my willingness to put myself out on a limb for Him.  Pesach, for me, is hard work, as it is for everyone who keeps the holiday according to all its details and laws to the best of their capacity.  However, Pesach is also the best time of year for me, because I get to show G-d just a tiny, infinitesimal token of gratitude for all He does for me and my family every second of every day of my life.  Any discomfort I feel or sacrifice I make to better comply with whatever Pesach laws I learn is my way of thanking G-d and showing Him how much I love Him and owe Him.

So, to me, it just doesn’t matter if some of the crazy customs and traditions surrounding Pesach make sense. It doesn’t hurt me to keep them for a week, and on the contrary, it helps me express my profound gratitude, love, and awe to Hashem, our G-d, for making me a Jew and always giving me and my people hope and something for which we can be thankful.

About the Author
Jessica Savitt is a member of the Orthodox Jewish community in Elizabeth, NJ. She is a secular studies teacher in a Jewish high school and has been so for the last 18 years. She teaches English, biology, or chemistry, depending on the needs of the school and the year. She is also a cancer survivor who has learned what is truly important in life, as well as the value of time. She has wanted to make aliyah since she was a teenager, and is still in the process of making plans to finally come, but I also know how many difficulties there are that prevent an American Jew from taking that step to come to Israel. Her brother and many other family members already live in Israel, and she has hosted shlichim many times here. We make it a point to host as many Israelis as possible. She has many friends in Israel, and her son is currently completing his high school studies in the Naaleh program at Sha'alvim. She tries to travel to Israel at least once a year, as finances permit. While she is an American Jew by birth, Jessica's home has always been Israel.