Joel Hoffman
Rabbi, Teacher, Columnist

Why I Love ‘Doing’ Jewish

  1. Shabbat Rejuvenates Me

Families who observe Shabbat have akin to a Thanksgiving dinner every Friday night, and at the Shabbat table parents have discussions with their kids and no one is on a cell phone.

Walking to synagogue on Shabbat provides an opportunity to notice and delight in the natural world that I missed during the week when speeding by my car.  Even when the wind chill is below zero, or there’s a blizzard, a downpour, or a heatwave, walking to synagogue is pleasurable because I connect with the Hasidism during Communist Russia who would secretly break a hole in the ice on the top of a frozen lake to use the lake as a Mikvah.

On Shabbat my body rests from not doing any house work, yard work, or errands, plus there’s the afternoon nap.  One’s brainwaves reset from not using a computer, a cellphone, or a TV.  And my soul recharges from the holiness of the meal experiences and communal prayer.

I did not grow up observing Shabbat. In my 20s, I started to make Shabbat more special and it took seven years of growth to fully observe Shabbat, and thus, fully benefit from Shabbat.

  1. Prayer Connects Me and Makes Me More Appreciative

If one calls the White House their chances of being connected to the president is about zero percent, but three times per day the creator and ruler of the world awaits for every Jew’s call.  It is a popular misconception that prayer is only about making requests from God.  Rather, the essence of prayer is connecting with God.

Praying also fosters a sense of appreciation.  For example, the very first prayer of the day thanks God that when one went to the bathroom everything functioned how it was supposed to; and then there are 15 blessings that make one aware of gifts that are easily taken for granted until there is a problem such as eyesight.  Additionally, throughout the day appreciation is fostered through saying a B’racha (blessing) before and after consuming food or drink.

  1. Learning Torah Gives Me Insight

Jews are commanded to learn Torah every morning and evening, including learning particular texts. Through learning Torah one is reminded that s/he has a purpose, learns interesting and deep teachings, and develops his/her mind by engaging in textual analysis and by contemplating on an abstract theological concept.

To fulfill this mitzvah, every morning before davenning (praying) I read a section of the Torah with a brief commentary, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Concise Code of Jewish Law) and the Tanya. There’s a daily study schedule for each of these texts. It takes about 30 minutes per day, and I complete these three fundamental texts of Judaism every year, year after year, ingraining its content more and more.  At night I chip away at the Talmud; and on Shabbat I study a Hasidic discourse with a friend.  Learning Torah is my favorite Mitzvah!

There’s a saying: “When one prays a person speaks to God, but when one learns Torah God speaks to him/her.”  I can attest to this being true because every day in learning Torah I come across an answer to a question I recently had, or an insight into a recent experience, or knowledge that I will utilize within the next couple of days.  This phenomenon, to use an Einstein term, is “spooky.”

  1. Jewish Teachings Gives Me an Empowering Viewpoint on Life

Judaism has a viewpoint on life that is the polar opposite of Western society. Four such Jewish teachings are: (a) Faith: Judaism does not require blind faith, but requires one to “know” God, and this is gained through studying the Torah, the Talmud, and Jewish philosophical texts.  Hebrew school was not enough! (b)  Wealth: “Who is rich?  He who is happy with his lot” (Pirkei Avot 4:1).  (c) Randomness: Everything that happens to a person is because God orchestrates it to happen and it is for their good, yet at the same time everyone has Freewill.  (d)  Ego: The more ego a person has, the less space one has for spirituality and real meaning in their life.  By integrating such teachings into how one views the world, s/he can overcome any challenge and generate a deeply-rooted happiness.

  1. Concretizing Jewish Values Makes the World Better

Judaism purports hundreds of eternal values such as: Bal Tash’chit – conserving natural resources; Tikkun Olam – fixing the world; Tzaar Baalei Chayim – being kind to animals; Ahavat Yisrael – unconditionally loving every Jew; Tzedakah – helping the poor; Bikkur Cholim – visiting the sick; and Kibud Av v’Eym – honoring parents.  By engaging in such Mitzvot, Jews model how to improve society.

  1. The Jewish Holidays Are Meaningful and Fun

Every Jewish holiday stresses a particular teaching — such as appreciation, forgiveness, Jewish pride, over-coming obstacles — while at the same time celebrates its historical significance. This is realized through engaging in fun activities such as eating delicious food, drinking wine, singing, and yearly practices such as camping in the backyard (on Sukkot), dancing in the streets (on Simchat Torah), dressing up in a costume (on Purim), lighting a bonfire (on Lag B’Omer), and attending interesting lectures all night (on Shavuot).

Whereas being Jewish is passive, ‘doing’ Jewish entails engaging in mitzvot which is extremely meaningful and fun, and I love it!

About the Author
Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman is a special education teacher for his "day job," and an outreach rabbi in his free-time. www.birthrightjudaism.com
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