September 26, 2016 / 24 Elul, 5776
by Cindy Tobin
There are 613 mitzvot, literally meaning laws or commandments, in the Torah. Supposedly, there are 613 bones in the human body (there aren’t) and 613 seeds in a pomegranate (but everyone who ever tried to confirm it lost count.)
These are the do’s and don’ts of Judaism. Now some people may think that because so many archaic laws don’t apply in modern times, that all of the laws are obsolete. Not so. Long ago, I read a rabbinic commentary that has stuck in my mind. It said that Judaism is not an all-or-nothing religion. If you break one law, it doesn’t give you license to ignore others. Example: even if you use speed limits as a “suggestion” when you hit 70 mph on the LIE, you don’t interpret that to mean you can commit murder. Hyperbole, I know, but now you get my point.
Now, I don’t pretend to know all 613 mitzvot. When I look at that list, I get dizzy. Since we are not in the times of the Temple, I skip over all the laws of sacrifice. And I think the laws regarding slavery are covered by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. But there are so many mitzvot that are easy to incorporate into our everyday lives.
We are commanded to care for the earth. One way is to recycle. I consider it a good week when my recycling bin overflows, and the trash can is close to empty. Kudos to those of you who, like my friends Terri and Arthur Miller, go the extra mile and compost as much as you can.
In Religious School, I was taught that we are obligated to care for animals, and you should always feed your pet before yourself. So each night, Coco is served dinner before the human family members. And when I expressed dismay that a feral cat had taken up residence under the deck in the back yard, my daughter reminded me that it’s a mitzvah to provide an animal with shelter.
Torah tells us to leave the corners of our fields and the gleanings so that the poor may eat. Well, my little patch of vegetables yielded 6 tomatoes, 1 eggplant and 3 butternut squash this year, so that won’t work. But when I go to the supermarket, I try to add a few low cost, high nutrition items to my cart to donate to a local food pantry. And the loose change at the bottom of my purse, under the couch cushions, and in the washing machine--straight into the tzedakah box.
These are just a few examples. There are many more. But you don’t have to have a list of laws to obey if you just try to always do the right thing. And although most of the mitzvot are ‘negative’ commandments, I try not to have a negative attitude. I prefer to think of mitzvot as opportunities. Each time you fulfill a mitzvah, you are taking the opportunity to live a good life. And the reward for a good life…is a good life!