WHY ?

     The book of Deuteronomy is mostly the final instructions of Moses to the Jewish people before his death and before they entered, without him, into the Promised Land.  One of his major concerns was that future generations will turn away from G-d and the mitzvot because of lack of knowledge and lack of understanding.  He addressed the knowledge concern through extensive recitation of laws, including even a recitation of the Ten Commandments, which were given at Sinai to the previous generation, about 39 years earlier (compare Deuteronomy 5:6-18 with Exodus 20:2-14).  However, it is obvious that he realized that although knowledge is a requisite, knowledge alone will not be sufficient to inquisitive minds.
     So to his own question  "If your child asks you tomorrow: what are the testimonies, decrees and laws that our G-d commanded you"  he answered as though the question was 'why', not 'what'.  "And G-d commanded us to perform all these decrees, to fear our G-d, for our eternal good, to keep us alive, to be our source of righteousness ..." (see Deuteronomy
6:20-25).  The underlying assumption is of faith in G-d, a faith founded on G-d's keeping the covenant with our ancestors and people.
     The reasons that Moses provides are not mitzvah-specific.  They encompass "all these decrees" -- those that we understand, those that we may explain and those that we do not understand at all.
     We fully understand when the Torah says:  "For poor people will always exist ... therefore ... you shall open your hand to your brother, to your poor, to your destitute" (Deuteronomy
15:11).  We appreciate and accept the G-d-given Sabbath:  "You shall keep the day of Shabbat to make it holy" (Deuteronomy 5:12).  When the Torah says  "Every clean bird you may eat"  and then lists those birds which are forbidden (see Deuteronomy 14:11-20), we may come up with an explanation because we notice that all the unclean birds prey on living creatures.
     However, when the Torah says:  "You shall not eat any abomination" and then defines the animals that we are allowed to eat as only those that have a split hoof, completely separated into two hooves, which also bring up their cud (see Deuteronomy 14:3-8), we are not sure why, except for being holy to G-d.  And being holy means, for example, refraining from eating pork, rabbit, turtle or dog meat.
     We want to understand.  Indeed, generations upon generations of Jews have studied, thriving to understand and explain the reasons for the mitzvot.  Regardless of the depth of our understanding, the mitzvot are all part of Judaism  "for you are a holy people to G-d, who has chosen you ... not because you are more numerous ... for you are the fewest of all the peoples" (Deuteronomy 7:6-7).  Is it possible perhaps that the Jewish mitzvot were intended by Divine design to weed out the weak and keep us always as "the fewest of all the peoples" ??

-- Judah Ari-Gur

 

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