The controversy about religion for many people is its habit of making you do seemingly mundane things and then calling them “holy.”
As if a lit candle had some inherent spiritual component, or our organs glowed every time we ate kosher food, or deteriorated a little every time we cut into a piece of pork.
The reality is that innate in their existence, the laws that tell us to rest on the 7th day, eat kosher food, not cut our sideburns, avoid razoring our beards, and so forth are relevant to the experience of a people apart. The Jewish people, are designated and portrayed by the Torah and our people’s own experience as a unique facet of humanity – no better and no worse than the peoples that live around, with and against us – but at its core a very different feature of human existence.
The Jewish people are the constant variable in a sequence of world events which are never ending, with the Torah even declaring we are an eternal people. The unique laws that we are required to perform play into this reality. Judaism does not require the conversion of non-Jews, in fact even declaring that the Jewish people will forever remain a small people. Not everyone in human existence will know the experience of being a Jew – being a member of the Covenant of Abraham.
The Jewish people are supposed to be here. It would not matter if this people was born out of the struggles of war or natural disaster rather than slavery. It would not matter if this people were born out of Africa, out of South America or out of Asia rather than Egypt, the Sinai Desert and Israel. We are a product of God that was meant to be a mainstay in human history, a guiding light and a feature of humanity’s staying power.
While we are told not to deviate our principles and our laws to right, nor to deviate our principles and our laws to left, we are that feature of stability for humanity. We are to make sure humanity does not deviate to the right, nor does it deviate to the left. As God as provided a constant to us in Halakhah, he has given humanity a constant X factor in the Jewish people. We are beyond just plain rhetoric, meant be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
So, that observance of law helps to mold who we are as a people, unique amongst the nations of the world. Our presence here, in some form, is necessary for the others. Maybe they are supposed to emulate us, or perhaps be influenced by us. But the course of human events would not be the same if it were not for the Jewish people maintaining this set of principles and this order of laws.
It keeps us disciplined, and focused on our lives and existence. I don’t think we should be absorbed by these laws, and isolate our communities to better maintain them. I think we should absorb the laws, and not be afraid to be challenged by the world around us. We did not become a faithful and trustworthy people on secluding ourselves and avoiding the problems the world throws our way. No person, Jewish or not, has ever solved a problem by avoiding confronting it.
These laws are a reality for us. It should be seen as ironic that the people who complain about the seemingly mundane rules are actually focusing on those seemingly MUNDANE rules. It only throws people off, rather than makes them curious. If someone were taking a test and did not understand a certain question, they would skip it and work on the other questions, coming back to it later. Not so many people these days are willing to give the strange questions within Judaism the same value or the same attention.
So while you are learning about how Judaism views heaven and hell, the messiah, the land of Israel and God, do not forget about the “little” things. You never know when the answer to those “big” questions are going to find themselves in the heart of the “little” things. Stopping yourself from turning on the TV on the Sabbath, or making sure a package has a kosher symbol on it are part of a bigger picture, and no puzzle is ever complete without all its pieces.