Religion offers salvation, enlightenment, a place in heaven. Religion teaches self-improvement: humility, devotion, patience, faith. Religion demands a standard of behavior that benefits our souls, our bodies and our society. I’m glad Judaism is not a religion. Because all of the above can be self-serving and narcissistic. Religion can be its own worst enemy.
Religion emphasizes the importance of being good, and of being right. It condemns those who are bad and those who are wrong. Those who practice a religion strive to be perfect. If they fail they may be condemned, and if they succeed they may become intolerant of others. I’m glad Judaism is not a religion.
Religion must invariably create a caste system — more religious is better, higher, holier. Less religious is lesser, lower, more profane. The pious can be measured in percentages. 100%, 50%, 2%.
Religion insists our nature is evil. To be good, we are told, we must resist our natural impulses and replace them with other worldly virtues. You can’t be “you” and good at the same time. You must therefore sacrifice the “you” and choose “good.” I’m glad Judaism is not a religion.
What is Judaism? G‑d gave us commandments that are dear to Him and essential to His vast eternal plan. When observing a mitzvah we are doing something for Him. Something He desires infinitely, that affects Him eternally.
We serve Him instead of seeking to be served by Him. The opportunity to serve provides an escape from narcissism by taking us beyond ourselves. The objective now focuses on the deed rather than on the person.
Is it good? Is it right? That is the question. My own goodness and righteousness is not the issue. Even when I’m not all good I can do that which is truly good. And when you do a mitzvah it is as good regardless of who you are or what you are. The gratitude for this opportunity brings real joy to life. Hence, “serve G‑d with joy,” because serving is the only means to joy.
When you are devoted to serving G‑d you naturally want others to do the same, for only together can we fulfill His plan completely. Cooperation, not religious competition.
Equally significant is the fact that we are born to these mitzvahs. G‑d created us for this mission. It is therefore our truest self that fulfills the mitzvah, not a denial of self.
The 613 mitzvahs don’t make you religious or pious. They simply bridge the most Jewish in the Jew with the most G‑dly in G‑d. One to One.
The mitzvahs are the many intimacies we can share with G‑d. They express the Jew in you. Every mitzvah counts — every Jew is precious. Now, that’s Judaism.