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Judaism: You Can Do It

by Rabbi Eliezer Gurkow

  

Library » Philosophy » Soul | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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The Oath

The Jewish nation received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 on the Jewish calendar (1312 BCE). Every year, on the anniversary of this date, this Biblical episode is commemorated by Jews around the world during a special holiday called Shavuot, which means “weeks”, thus called because this holiday always falls exactly seven weeks after Passover.

The Hebrew word “Shavuot” also means “oaths”. The Talmud1 teaches that G-d administers an oath to Jewish souls before they descend into this world, obliging the soul to observe the Biblical commandments. Every Jewish soul must take the oath. Every Jewish soul must oblige itself. Is the taking of an oath not fair to those souls that are simply unable to abide by the many laws and restrictions inherent in these commandments?

A Commitment

I once helped to organize a large community fair. At the planning meeting, when responsibilities were parceled out, I was asked to recruit fifty volunteers for the fair. I balked at the large number, unsure that I could commit. The leader looked down at me and thundered, "Do you think everyone here knows how they'll fulfill their commitments? We only know that if we don't commit, it will certainly not happen."

If you will it, anything is possible. The Talmud teaches that nothing stands in the way of one's will, but for will itself
At the time, I was hurt. Didn't he understand that I couldn't commit on behalf of fifty other people? I didn't say anything, but went to work. It took time and effort, but in the end, fifty volunteers were recruited and I learned a valuable lesson: if you will it, it will happen.

A Story

An elderly rabbi, striding down the road surrounded by his students, was solicited by a coachman to help upright an overturned wagon. The rabbi politely declined, pointing to his old age and infirmity. The coachman brazenly called out, "Sir, it's not your inability that's insulting. It's your unwillingness."

The rabbi later revealed that this incident had taught him a profound lesson, applicable to religion and to life. If he had willed it, he would have overcome his infirmity and been of at least some assistance to the coachman.

If you will it, anything is possible. The Zohar2 teaches that nothing stands in the way of one's will, but for will itself.

A Cup of Tea

As a rabbi, I often encounter Jews who claim that they are unable to bear the entire burden of the ritual commandments. "You're different," they tell me, "You have more faith than I. You are more able than I. I envy you, but religion is not my cup of tea."

My response is always the same. "Don't try to do it all at once," I tell them, "Do a little bit today and a little more tomorrow. With time, you may even surprise yourself and develop a taste for the religious cup of tea."

As I speak, I'm always struck by how it easy it is to mistake unwillingness for inability. As I encourage them to move forward, I know that I am not more able than they, only more practiced. I know that with time, they too can accustom themselves to my way of life and discover that they, too, are able. They will then know that they never lacked ability, only commitment.

Footnotes

  • 1. Talmud tractate Nidah 30b
  • 2. Zohar vol. 2 162b

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Holidays » Shavuot » About

Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Shavuot
Early summer festival marking the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1312 BCE).
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.