Many would say: Keeping Shabbat/holidays, observing the laws of Family Purity (which relate to marital intimacy) and eating kosher.
Why is that? Even though every mitzvah is important, why are these three often singled out as being fundamental?
Each represents harnessing a basic human drive and elevating it as a means to connect with our Creator: The drive to work and create (Shabbat), the drive to procreate (Family Purity) and the drive to eat (keeping kosher).
God created us to give us the opportunity to develop a relationship with Him. In the Torah, He outlines how we can elevate our souls and come close to Him. Everything in this physical world has the potential for good. These mitzvot (and others as well) teach us:
(1) How to enjoy physicality.
(2) How not to be harmed by it.
(3) How to utilize it to deepen our relationship with God.
Mitzvot do not limit pleasure, they maximize it.
Shabbat is a paradigm of how mitzvot help us enjoy the physical world, while enhancing our spirituality and relationships at the same time. On Shabbat, we connect with God through pleasurable activities, e.g., singing during prayer services and meals, and studying inspirational Torah teachings. But Shabbat is not only about us and God. The Sages teach that Friday night is an especially suited time for martial intimacy. In addition, they encourage us to eat lavish Shabbat meals surrounded by family and guests. On Shabbat, all three mitzvot coalesce and are used to deepen our relationships with our Creator, our spouse, our family and our people.
Any physical pleasure will significantly lose its appeal when engaged in often. The laws of Family Purity, by forbidding intimacy during certain days each month, keep the desire strong and enhance the bond between husband and wife.
The laws of keeping kosher ensure that we do not eat mindlessly, without checking the status of the food. By eating mindfully, we savor the experience, and enjoy the unique textures and tastes of each food. In addition, by eating kosher, we elevate the mundane act of eating to the spiritual experience of living as God intended when He created us.
The next time you eat kosher, speak out loud to your Father in Heaven, and say to Him with feeling, “I am eating kosher, as You, my Father, intended.” With time, or perhaps right away, you will be filled with joy and a feeling of closeness to your Father. Never again will you eat alone; you will always eat with God.
Staying away from harm
We have to work, procreate and eat for humanity to survive. The desire to engage in these activities though, is a double edged sword. The unrestrained pursuit of these activities can lead to addictive behavior and bring destruction in its wake.
People have ruined their careers and marriages due to infidelity. People have ruined their health by overworking and eating unhealthily. (The latter two can happen even to those who observe the mitzvot; but mitzvah observance helps us rein in our tendency toward excess, the root cause behind much self-inflicted harm.)
God says to us: I created you to live a pleasurable and fulfilling life in this world. Enjoy creature comforts but do not destroy yourselves in the process. Observe the mitzvot to help you safely engage this physical world, and as a means to come closer to Me.
These three mitzvot – Shabbat, Family Purity and keeping kosher – teach us how to live a balanced life, avoiding the extremes of asceticism and hedonism. God tells us in His Torah: Yes, work, but not on Shabbat. Yes, be intimate, but not every day of the month. Yes, eat, but not these foods.
Physicality is a powerful force: Unrestrained, it can destroy us; but properly harnessed, using the Divine guidelines of the mitzvot, it elevates us to otherwise unattainable levels.
Deepening our relationship with God
The main purpose of the mitzvot is to serve as a bridge, enabling us to come closer to God in this world and earn the bliss of the next world. Only our Creator knows fully how the mitzvot elevate our souls and enhance our connection to Him. By observing the mitzvot, we can feel some of the elevation and refinement that is taking place. Through Torah study, we can learn about some of the benefits of the mitzvot. But it is beyond the limits of our corporal bodies to fully experience or understand all the ways mitzvot benefit us. Instead, we trust our Creator that He knows best the optimal way to live.
Every mitzvah, each in its own way, enables us to deepen our relationship with God. Shabbat gives us a weekly opportunity to spend time with Him in song and celebration, Torah study and prayer; to sing and celebrate with rapture, to study with delight, and to pray with longing. Observing the laws of Family Purity and eating kosher, enable us to stay away from forbidden experiences that weaken our connection to God and bring Godliness into every aspect of our lives: Our most intimate act, and the very cells of our body, formed from the foods we eat.
When we do not give in to the desire for the forbidden, our true desire can be revealed – the soul’s intense yearning for God. As King David said to God (Psalms 39:8), “…My longing is for You.”
It’s all a gift
Underlying these three mitzvot is the realization that everything we have is a gift from God. There are many people who cannot work, are impotent, or receive sustenance from a feeding tube. When we observe these mitzvot, we say to God, “Everything I have comes from You. You have given me the ability to work, be intimate, and eat, for which I am deeply grateful. Since You want me to utilize these gifts in a specific manner – for my benefit – I will unconditionally follow Your will, regardless of the challenge.”
We observe the mitzvot not because we feel like it, or because of social pressure or even because they are logical; we observe them because God commanded us to. Instead of feeling burdened by the mitzvot, we view the opportunity to fulfill our Creator’s will as the greatest possible privilege and honor. We say to Him, “To do Your will, my God, is my desire...(Psalms 40:9)”
The Prophet Zechariah describes a dialogue that will take place before the Messiah comes (Zechariah 13:9). To paraphrase, God will say to us, “You are My people” and we will answer Him, “The Lord is our God.”
We see from Zechariah that to merit the redemption, we must make ourselves recognizable to God that we are His people. How can we do that?
By making our actions proclaim, “The Lord is our God.”
Each time you observe a mitzvah because God commanded you to, especially those which involve sacrifice, you are saying to your Creator, “You, are my God.”
To learn more about the mitzvot from Aish.com, click here.
Please share this post with family and friends by using the icons below.
Please subscribe to this blog by typing your email address in the box on the upper right and clicking on the "Subscribe" tab.