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Thought for the Day: Why, Yes... The Creator *Does* Care How a Jew Makes Coffee on Shabbos

It began innocently enough... We were having Shabbos lunch with a very nice family whom we recently met.  Their son, a young rabbinic scholar (who by nature are pretty rigid... all part of the process) gave a very nice d'var Torah regarding a curious Rashi.  When Moshe struck the rock to which he was supposed to speak, a great miracle still occurred -- water for millions of people -- and yet Moshe was severely reprimanded and punished.  Rashi explains what was so terrible: Had Moshe spoken, the nation would have taken a lesson for themselves.  If a rock, which doesn't get rewarded for listening to HaShem nor punished for disobeying HaShem, obeys a spoken command; then all the more so we, who are rewarded for our obedience to HaShem and punished for transgressing His Will, should certainly obey the Torah!

The young rabbinic scholar said, "This Rashi makes sense on first glance, but upon taking a second look, it doesn't make any sense at all!  The rock, after all, doesn't have free will; so what lesson can I possibly learn from that!?"  (Yes, he should have said, "On a second look , I see that I don't understand this Rashi"; as I said, all part of the process.)  He then went on to give a very nice way to understand this Rashi.  I was on my best behaviour (new friends and all), but I felt I needed to broaden the young rabbinic scholar's horizons a bit.  I asked a seemingly innocuous, but quite loaded, question:  How do you know the rock has no free will.  Can you design an experiment that could distinguish between whether the rock has free will or simply always chooses to act precisely in accordance with HaShem's Will?  (Answers: You don't.  No.)

This led to a lively discussion, some thoughtful questions, and breaking a bit of the rigidity in (most) everyone's world view.  In the midst of the discussion, the hostess served hot water for coffee; I joked that everything was extraordinary... except the coffee.  She remarked that she was unable to make her usually delicious coffee today.  In the spirit of the conversation (that I had prompted), I rejoined, "No... you could, but you exercised your free will and and are choosing not to make your regular coffee as an expression of your choosing to obey the Creator and do His Will."

This prompted -- from a not (yet...) frum and very sincere guest -- the best question I've heard in a long time.   A question that very neatly expresses the core work that a person needs to do in this world:  Yes, I believe in G-d.  Why, though, would He care how I make coffee on Shabbos?

I answered that HaShem has created this beautiful world for no other reason than for you to express your belief and faith in Him with each and every action, each and every moment of your life.  Therefore, there are mitzvos that cover every situation.  From declaring twice a day our belief in the One G-d, to the order in which I tie my shoes.  From the imperative to love every Jew and to never hold a grudge nor take revenge to... how to make coffee on Shabbos.

Of course she got that, but still... it is easy to understand why a declaration of faith in the Creator or laws about how we treat other people are core religious precepts.  How though does the highly sophisticated belief and faith trickle down to the mundane details of how I tie my shoes or make my coffee on Shabbos?

Do you understand how antibiotics work?  Do you know what oxygen actually does for you?  Are you going to give up antibiotics and breathing till you understand that?  Of course not.  So why do I do I breathe and take antibiotics?  Obviously because I understand in a deep and fundamental way just how critical that is to my life.  A child, on the other hand, breathes because is it natural and takes antibiotics because he is told to by his parents -- whom he trusts and loves.

Things like declaring belief in the Creator and working on loving every Jew comes naturally.  Tying my shoes in a particular order and preparing coffee in a certain way on Shabbos?  I do that because I have faith in HaShem -- whom love and trust; and part of that trust includes performing the mitzvos the way they have been handed down to us through the ages by our sages.

You don't learn physics by thinking about the deep principles; you have to actually apply those principles and work the problems.  You don't learn to ride a bike by learning about chains, wheels, and levers; you actually have to get on and ride.  Of course Torah needs to be learned, but more than that -- much more than that -- Torah needs to be lived.


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