Rabbi Simlai taught: There were 613 mitzvot (commandments) given to Moses in the Torah,consisting of 365 prohibitions, which correspond to the number of days in the solar year,and 248 positive commandments, which correspond to the number of a person’s limbs.-Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 23b
Rabbi Berezin and I are excited to announce that, beginning on Saturday, January 6, 2018, we will introduce an exciting new approach to our Shabbat morning Torah study class! Now, instead of examining the weekly portion as we have done for many years, we will be studying the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments) of the Torah – the guidelines and principles that are the essence of the Torah and form the framework for Jewish life. Together, week to week, we will learn what each of the 613 Mitzvot are, and explore how they can enrich our lives as 21st-century Reform Jews. According to Reform Judaism’s most recent Statement of Principles, there are three reasons why Reform Jews should engage in a meaningful way with the 613 Mitzvot:
(1) Mitzvot are “the means by which we make our lives holy.
”God tells us in the Torah, “You shall be holy” (Lev. 19:2), and the 613 mitzvot give us the roadmap for how to fulfill that mission in our daily lives. Honor your parents, give tzedakah to the needy, respect the elderly, bury the dead with dignity, return lost property, rest on Shabbat, be honest in business – these are all mitzvot that, when we do them, elevate our existence, draw us closer to God, and set us on the path to creating a better world. To paraphrase the modern legal scholar Robert Cover, the mitzvot of the Torah are the bridge between the world-as-it-is and the world-as-it-ought-to-be. But in order to live a life of mitzvot, we first have to learn about them, as the Sages say: “the study of Torah is equal to them all, because it leads to them all.”
(2) Performing mitzvot is how “we respond to God daily.”
When the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai, we entered into a special relationship with God – a Covenant – that is like a marriage. In a marriage, one spouse might say to the other, “It would really mean a lot to me if you would bring me flowers on my birthday,” and, in response to this heartfelt request, the spouse might lovingly bring the flowers knowing that doing so will make his/her spouse happy. If, on the other hand, he/she does not respond to his/her spouse’s desires, the relationship will eventually grow distant. Our relationship with God is no different. The mitzvot are expressions of what God desires and needs from us. If we respond to God’s heartfelt requests positively by fulfilling mitzvot our relationship will deepen; but if we make no effort to fulfill God’s desires, how can we expect our relationship with God to flourish?
(3) “We are committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of mitzvot and to the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community.”
Reform Judaism is based on the principles of individual autonomy and informed choice – meaning each individual Reform Jew has both the right to make his/her own religious decisions and the responsibility to make those decisions from a position of knowledge rather than convenience or whim. Reform Judaism does not demand that we do every one of the mitzvot, but it does demand that we study them so that we can make serious, thoughtful, informed decisions about our Jewish lives. That means we have to be in conversation with the tradition, struggle with the mitzvot, and determine if and how they are relevant to our own lives. When it comes to religious practice, any choice that is rooted in knowledge is a good Reform choice.