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Who Wants a Religion of No’s?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


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


Don’t drink and drive. Don’t speed. Don’t go through a red light. Don’t drive the wrong direction on a one-way street. Don’t talk on a hand-held electronic device, apply lipstick, argue with your spouse, or be involved in any other distracting activity while operating a motor vehicle. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t… Every state has its own driver’s manual which contains tens of pages of don’ts. 

Why in heaven’s name would any sane person willingly enter a vehicle which imposes so many restrictions on his freedom?! We live in a society which is fiercely proud of its freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of privacy, freedom to choose your own cable company, etc. – freedoms which we will defend at all costs. Why, then, do we submit ourselves on a daily basis to such drastic restrictions?

While this question sounds highly philosophical, any five year old child will answer it in an instant: we drive cars because they take us where we want to go; and substantially quicker than any other method of transportation which is readily available. We willingly relinquish certain freedoms when doing so serves our greater goals.

A real restriction is not a result of your choice, but rather something which restricts your choice
On a deeper level, viewing all the abovementioned rules as “restrictions” is a tad childish. For in truth, every choice entails “restrictions.” For example, if you choose to go shopping that precludes you from mowing the lawn at that time. But a real restriction is not a result of your choice, but rather something which restricts your choice. The person who chooses to drive is not focusing on the don’ts, rather he is focused on his choice – arriving safely at his destination. He isn’t overwhelmed by the rules; he barely gives them a thought. Highlighting the don’ts demonstrates a lack of focus on the goal.

The same can be said of Judaism: Don’t eat dairy together with meat. Don’t wear a mixture of wool and linen. Don’t turn on a light on Shabbat. Don’t gossip… The Torah’s “Manual for Driving through Life Safely & Spiritually” contains many more pages and rules than the booklet published by the DMV…

Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk once said, “Ideally one shouldn’t abstain from sinning because sins are forbidden; rather, where does one find the time to sin?”
But one has a choice how to approach Torah. One can choose to see Torah as a collection of limiting rules intended to make one’s life miserable, or one can be broadminded and recognize Torah for what it really is—the best vehicle of all. Actually, it is the only vehicle which is equipped to transport us to our desired destination—a life of spirituality, meaning, and connection to the Creator. Yes, driving this vehicle will restrict us from doing certain activities which will jeopardize the safety and success of our journey, as well as endanger other commuters and innocent pedestrians, but every choice means restricting those things which impedes the choice from being implemented!

The holy Chassidic master Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk once said, “Ideally one shouldn’t abstain from sinning because sins are forbidden; rather, where does one find the time to sin?” When one is completely preoccupied with implementing the choice, then one doesn’t have time to even ponder all the other options which this choice precluded.

This idea is at the root of Chabad’s philosophy. The Lubavitcher Rebbe strongly encouraged his followers, and indeed all Jews, to bring Torah and Mitzvot to those Jews who have unfortunately not been exposed to the beauty of Judaism. The Rebbe’s Mitzvah campaigns encourage Jews to observe a mitzvah—put on Tefillin, affix a Mezuzah, or light a Shabbat candle. There’s no need to tell people what not to do, that only alienates them, leaving them under the erroneous impression that Judaism is about restrictions. Instead, expose them to a mitzvah; allow them to experience a relationship with G-d, and they too will choose to hop in for the ride—and follow the rules of the road.


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Mitzvot » Should I do them?

(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Black leather boxes containing small scrolls with passages of the Bible written on them. Every day, aside for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, the adult Jewish male is required to wrap the Tefillin--by means of black leather straps--around the weaker arm and atop the forehead.
Plural form of Mitzvah. Commandments of G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
A rolled up scroll containing certain verses from the Torah which is affixed to the right-hand doorpost of doorways in a Jewish home.
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
One who follows the teachings of the Chassidic group which was formerly based in the Belarus village of Lubavitch. Today, the movement is based in Brooklyn, New York with branches worldwide. The Lubavitch movement is also widely known as "Chabad."
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.