Do Reform Jews have to do all the mitzvot (usually translated as “commandments”)? The answer, says Reform theologian Eugene Borowitz, depends on who you believe wrote the Torah. If you believe, as our ancient Sages did, that the Torah came directly from God’s own mouth, then you know with absolute certainty what God wants you to do – and you’d be kind of crazy not to do it. But we Reform Jews tend to accept what modern scholarship has shown – that the Torah was written not by God, but by human beings seeking to know, and experience, and explain God. Personally, I believe the voice of God can be heard in our sacred texts – in the collective wisdom of our ancestors, who, in each generation, have uncovered a little bit more of the mystery.
As modern, autonomous human beings, we have the right and the responsibility to consider the traditional teachings and determine for ourselves what God wants us to do, here and now. So how do we do that? Jakob Petuchowski, another Reform theologian, says you have to study the Torah with an open mind and an open heart, and be willing to let it speak to you, and change you. Petuchowski calls it “listening for the commandment.” The idea is that God speaks to each of us differently, and wants something different from each of us based on our unique, individual covenant with God.
When you’re listening for the commandment, you’re really listening for what God is asking you to do. You won’t necessarily hear God’s voice calling to you in every mitzvah you study, but when you do hear it, you’ll know. You’ll know in your soul that this mitzvah is meant for you. And the moment you hear the commandment, that mitzvah becomes an obligation for you. Listen for the commandment, and be prepared to be changed by it. That’s our responsibility as Reform Jews.