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  • Writer's pictureRachel Shifra Tal

Obey or not obey that isn't the question

There are a few words in the English language that we can do without.

Obey is one of them.

The definition of obey according to Rav Google: “submit to the authority of (someone) or comply with...”

This is not a Jewish concept.

I hang out with a friend here (who happens not to be Jewish), and we love having theological debates. She was asking me about this past holiday of Shavuot. After hearing about the ten commandments she said, 'so those are the laws you must obey or else?'

This statement, made me instantly feel incredible discomfort. My husband can attest that obey is totally not a word in my vocabulary, neither is submit. In fact if someone tells me to do something the Taurus in me wishes to do the exact opposite!

So what is the problem with the concept, obey. We do just that, don't we? We obey the 10 commandments or try to the best of our ability. Why did this approach literally set me off?

Because, to obey is not the goal of them. In true Jewish fashion I will ask another question, which I hope can lead us to the answer of the first one.

Who is a leader? The Kuzari king asks this question. The answer given on the surface also makes me bonkers, have a listen for yourself and let me know what you think,

According to the Rabbis answering the king of the Kuzaris, a leader is a saintly person who controls his tongue. He does not emit a word from his mouth without thinking about it first. Every word is weighed and considered. Hence, the prayer of such a person is not a thoughtless, perfunctory act, like the speech of a parrot.

Raise your hand if that statement above made you feel like tossing in the towel, an unattainable goal it seems. In fact, I might have to slap this saintly person, to wake them up and bring them into reality.

Life is way harder than this. Temptation, desire, circumstances affect us all the time. This is leader? Are they in the real world?

The quote I am meditating on this week,

“mastering ones desires, is the reward.”

This is so true and so relevant. Either we are a slave to our desires or we harness them and channel them to serve us. Desire is not bad, it is very, very good. A desire is a teacher; wanting something is the motivational drive and force that causes us to stand up and rise out of our complacency. When desire changes to Jealousy or covetousness, there the catalyst for change is destroyed.

What does this have to do with obey? Or a leader?

A leader, a true leader, a good leader, needs to have a grasp on the struggles and challenges to lead others through them.

A righteous person falls 7 times and gets up every time. The evil person falls only once, and does not get up again. (7 in the Torah doesn't in this case mean literally 7 it means a lot!) This idea that someone doesn't ever fall isn't the goal. The goal is to get up. Again and again and again. Get up.

Mastering our desires doesn't mean we need to stop having them or destroy and shut them off. The opposite! We need to use these desires for growth, for refinement for change.

The commandments are not for G-D. G-D has no needs from us. They are here for us. To use, to apply to strive for to help us become the most efficient and effective person we can.

This person who is master of their desires isn't immune. In fact the more a person keeps the commandments and works on themselves the stronger the yetzer (inclination) becomes.

Don't kill, isn’t “gosh darn it he made me so mad I just up and killed him....oops.”

Rather, the significance of human life and our sensitivity to another’s pain should be excruciating. We should care so much about preserving life that the idea of killing isn't even in our nature.

Instead of obeying the commandments. We keep them. Keep them close, use them as a guide on what kind of person we are becoming.

The goal of the commandments are to achieve greatness. Not to submit or obey. Making GD'S will our will is internalizing the commandments. Greatness doesn't exist in a vacuum. The more precise and refined the code a person lives by, the more specific goal they can achieve.

Saying, “I want to be great isn't enough,” be specific, a leader? the top of my class? a surgeon? A kung fu master? A person my children can look up to? A leader that I wish I had?

The details, the everyday the shuffling and climbing and falling and getting up, getting our hands dirty, here in the details lies the path to greatness.

The Torah is a guidebook filled with details. Our whole selves -- our desires, needs, wants and challenges -- need to come to the table.

I bless us all to be able to truly harness our deepest desires and use them to create a life we want to be living.

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