Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky says: “The true essence of the Redemption, the departure of the Hebrews from Egypt, is not the passage from slavery to freedom, but rather the acquisition and promulgation of a body of laws that dignifies, sanctifies and elevates our thoughts and actions, both individually and nationally. Redemption, at its deepest root, is taking possession, and ultimately creating, a society based on a body of just laws, which embodies the way of God.”
Kanefsky continues: “Because it was not just simple commandments, the ritual Halacha, that we received by being redeemed. With the Torah, Moses was also giving us the law on how and when to include the foreigner who wishes to celebrate Passover with us and how we must establish a single law and a single Torah, both for the native born among us, as well as for the stranger. ”
The Torah is a manual of conduct, it is not a catechism of beliefs. It was at Sinai that Moses received the divine order to teach the people 613 commandments. The same God who brought the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt not only taught them the value of freedom, but now required them to be bound by the discipline of the divine commandments.
Does it sound like a contradiction? Not at all. God wanted the Hebrews to learn what Will Durant, the great historian, was saying, referring to the most important lesson that history teaches: “Man became truly free when he recognized that he had to submit to the law.”
Some say Judaism more than a noun, is rather a verb. Its laws accompany the Jew from the moment he opens his eyes in the morning, to how he should go to bed at night; how you should handle the affairs in your business, how you should treat your parents, your partner, your children and how to commemorate the events that mark your life. It is a manual of how to live.
For various reasons, many of the 613 commandments do not apply today. The main one, although not the only one that prevents us from- keeping many of the commandments, is the fact that we no longer have the Temple of Jerusalem. Rabbi Israel Meir Kegan, the Chafetz Chaim, (1838-1933), wrote the Sefer Hamitzvoth Hakatzar, a compendium of the mitzvoth that do remain valid today: 271 that apply to the entire Jewish world and 26 that apply only to those living in Israel.
Our sages have dedicated a lot of time and effort to studying, commenting on, understanding, teaching and applying them. Many of them are universal values. More than being freed from Egypt, the mitzvoth, the commandments, were the true gift of God.
By Marcos Gojman.
Bibliography: Benjamin Blech “Understanding Judaism”, the Jafetz Chaim “The concise book of Mitzvoth” and Yosef Kanefsky’s article in “Morethodox”.