You Shall Pursue

August 19, 2015

Living Mitzvot

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 6:02 pm

My kitchen is kosher. I got scalded a few times, poured water all over my (tiny tiny) kitchen. I had to get rid of my wok, and all of my ceramics. Sitting in their places are two new sets of dishes, blue-gray and white and tasteful, from IKEA. I still need frying pans, and some new pots, and to figure out where all of my silverware is going to go.

One of the bigger misconceptions about kashrut is that it’s about saying a prayer. “Oh, the rabbi blessed the meat, and that’s why it’s kosher!” There are blessings involved, when you shect (ritually slaughter) a cow or when you immerse your dishes in a mikvah (ritual bath) for the first time. But mostly, kashrut is about checking, and hard work. To kasher a pot, you must boil it, or blowtorch it, until it is scalding to the touch. To kill meat in a kosher way, you must use a knife clean across the jugular. It’s about getting up close and personal with your divinity. It’s prayer, but it’s prayer that makes you sweat, makes your back ache, makes you feel in your body how much you want to serve God.

A lot of Judaism is like this. When we pray in the morning, we wrap tefillin around our arms and our heads, leather straps that cling to our skin and leave marks. We suffer with no food (Yom Kippur) or with food that stops us up (Passover). And for folks with penises, there’s circumcision, perhaps the most viscerally way to demonstrate religious conviction.

So why not just prayer? Why performance of mitzvot which are exhausting, and time consuming, and physical, instead of prayer? For me, there is a certain satisfaction in doing things that I don’t necessarily always feel in saying words. I am a person who lives in her head; words come easy to me. Actually doing things that are exhausting and inconvenient, that is so much harder.

I am currently learning Maimonides’ Hilchot Teshuvah, and he teaches that, in order for someone to demonstrate proper repentance, they must publicly proclaim their wrongdoing, and then never do that thing again, even when faced with exactly the same situation. Judaism understands that, for so many of us, words come easy. In order to reinforce that what we are doing is worthwhile, we need to back up our words with actions. Even, especially, when it leaves us sore or sweaty.

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