Rabbi Sessler D’Var Torah


Keeping the Faith

There are different ways to conceptualize the 613 mitzvoth in Judaism. One such way, is to divide the mitzvoth between the mitzvoth between G-d and a human being, and the mitzvoth between one human being and another.

An example of a mitzvah between an individual and G-d is the obligation to pray thrice daily. An example of a mitzvah between one individual and another is tzedaka. Another way to analytically divide the 613 mitzvoth is between the do’s and the don’ts, between the active and passive mitzvoth. An active mitzvah would be to eat matzah on the Seder night. A passive mitzvah would be to refrain from consuming non-kosher food.

Lastly, there is also the distinction between the mitzvoth that the Torah calls “mishpatim,” and the mitzvoth that the Torah calls “hukim.” Mishpatim are universal laws such as “don’t murder,” which every civilized society endorses. “Hukim” are uniquely Jewish mitzvoth, such as keeping kosher, refraining from eating chametz on Passover or fasting on Yom Kippur.

Our parashah is called “Behukotay” and states in its opening verse that should we follow the “hukim,” the uniquely Jewish mitzvoth, then we will thrive as a nation. This statement is pertinent to the greatest spiritual challenge of our people today – how to ensure inter-generational Jewish continuity to our descendants. Here the Torah gives us the answer. Families and individuals who engage in distinctly Jewish practices, who celebrate Shabbat weekly, who keep a kosher home, who celebrate the Jewish holidays, who pray together, augment by far the prospect of their children opting to raise a Jewish family in the future, then families and individuals for whom Judaism is but an ethnic and cultural gastronomic folklore, coupled with universal ethics and nostalgia for the old country and “the good old days.” Want to increase the chance  that your children’s children remain Jewish? Then do Jewish! That’s the imperative tacit implication of our parasha’s opening verse.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sessler


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