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?