Ekev–Sacred Responsibility

” . . . to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I command you this day for your good . . .”  (Deut. 10:13)

The usual translation of the word mitzvah is “commandment.” This is an accurate translation, but it is problematic.  Behind it lies a primary image of God as monarch.  It’s an image I’m willing to invoke occasionally, but for me it is not a sustaining one.

As I’ve come to understand it, a mitzvah is a sacred responsibility.   Matters such as sabbath keeping, eating, reciting the Shema, fulfilling oral commitments, and many more, all fall under the scope of mitzvahs in Judaism.  Am I willing to do these as a sacred responsibility to others, to myself, to God, to the world?  If so, I am doing the act as a mitzvah: the voice of the tradition meets with an inner assent, and one accepts the Torah at Sinai anew.  In this way, to borrow Reb Zalman’s formulation, one can feel commanded without feeling coerced.

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