Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Power of Positive Doing

There is a popular book from the 1950's called The Power of Positive Thinking. I've never read it, but since Sukkot ended I've been musing about something else: the power of positive doing.

Of the 613 mitzvot, Judaism recognizes 248 of them as positive commandments. That means that instead of starting with "Thou shalt not...", these mitzvot start with "Thou shalt..." and go on to tell you something to do.

Not all 248 mitzvot are for everyone. There are positive mitzvot for men and positive mitzvot for women, positive mitzvot for priests and positive mitzvot for kings. There are positive mitzvot for society as a whole, and there are positive mitzvot to be performed in each household.

Take Sukkot, for example. In the Torah, Jews are commanded to build a Sukkah and then to live in it for seven days. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that there's a big difference between reading or thinking about building a Sukkah and actually doing it. It takes planning, effort, and, not least,
a little help from your friends!

Sometimes we might be tempted to think that being faithful to God is simply about not doing certain things. But commandments like Sukkot teach us that just as often, being faithful to God means picking up a hammer and a nail and doing some work. "For we are God's workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them..." (Eph 2:10)
Judaism is unabashedly a religion of doing. Not doing in order to score points with God, but doing because G-d has covenanted with us to be His partners in making the world into the kind of place where He wants to live.

But the Torah teaches that changing the world doesn't start far off. No, "it is in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it." (Deut. 30:14) Changing the world starts simply:
  • And with joyous celebrations like Sukkot.
So, friends, let's remember the power of positive doing. "Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." (1 Cor. 15:58)

Now it's your turn to share. Here are some questions:
  • What positive commandments do you find particularly meaningful or important?
  • What positive commandments are you thinking about integrating into the practice of your faith this year?
  • Do you tend to be drawn to certain types of commandments as opposed to others? (For an interesting political take on this question, see this article by Jewish blogger DovBear.)
  • No one is perfect, but are there some mitzvot you have an especially hard time with?


Rabbi Joshua said...


Great post! You really hit the nail on the head regarding "doing" in Judaism. That is why the rabbis often tell us, "do it, and you'll understand it later."

I am not advocating just doing without proper inention and know-how. Afterall, it is important to wrestle with every mitzvah we choose to take on. However, there is also a reason that when we were originally presented with the Torah on Mt. Sinai our response was, "Na'aseh V,nishmah - we will do, and then we will obey (and understand)."

Timothy Briner said...

Hey Yahnatan,

I figured I'd comment to let you know I do read this blog, and I am very encouraged by it. It was great to read about the importance of doing, especially as in some areas Messianic Jews have gotten stuck on thinking about the meaning of commands rather than focusing on how to obey (and trusting the L-rd to give us revelation into the meaning as we do it).

As to your questions, over the past few weeks I have been considering how to celebrate Rosh Chodesh. I've found it interesting that I've heard so much about Shabbat and the major festivals but nothing about Rosh Chodesh (despite the number of times that it's spoken of in the Tanakh). So, if you have any suggestions as to how to celebrate it or any insights into its importance, ;) I'd appreciate it.

Yahnatan Lasko said...

Rabbi Joshua--great point! I was hoping someone would bring up Exodus 24:7!

Yahnatan Lasko said...

Timothy--thanks for reading! I'm glad you joined the conversation.

What you said about pondering the meaning while forgetting to actually do definitely describes me sometimes...something I'm trying to rectify!

Interesting point about Rosh Chodesh. It's not something I can speak from personal experience about either. Maybe we can dig deeper and come back to it!

Anonymous said...


Excellent blog.
I feel like at some point the level of Jewish observance (Shabbat and kashrut especially) just plateaued, so even though they may be incorporated in my life in a rudimentary way, continuing to deepen my observance is difficult.

At the same time, all things blessings, prayer, and justice come easy to me.

Yahnatan Lasko said...


I can expecially relate to the plateauing of Shabbat and kashrut observance. One thing I've observed is that both Shabbat and kashrut observance interact with the level of observance of the community around you.

I'm thinking about doing a follow-up post or two on some of the positive mitzvot...