This week of Passover brought up an interesting question: “Why do you observe Judaism when you could do nothing at all?”
Doing nothing is a relatively simple option. You don’t have to go to a 4 + hour Seder or prepare for one. You don’t have to go to Minyan or Shabbat services. You could just sleep in or go out with your friends or even just lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling.
Why would a young Jewish woman limit her dating options by only looking for young Jewish men? Surely she could find a suitable young bachelor who isn’t Jewish and who shares similar values.
One thing I observed about all my Jewish friends is that they agree Judaism can be a pain in the butt. Many of them stayed Kosher this week and avoided leavened bread. While it’s certainly a way to reduce your carb intake, they did not enjoy it. My friends that hosted Seders were also stressed out about the amount of preparation it required. They had to shop for Kosher foods, review the rituals, make sure everything was on time, and entertain the guests. It’s exhausting.
But you know what?
They do it anyway.
Even if they don’t “believe” the Biblical story of the Exodus or even if they don’t believe in God, they still feel the need to “do” Judaism.
Friday morning I volunteered at Miriam’s Kitchen, an organization dedicated to helping end homelessness in DC. I was responsible for making smoothies. I also helped serve the guests and do the dishes after breakfast.
If that were my full time job, I would probably hate it. No one aspires to be a dishwasher.
But there is something incredibly satisfying about doing it for free, for doing those things when I had no obligation to do so.
It was a pain in the butt in many ways. I had to be at the kitchen by 6 AM; some of those dishes took a while to scrub, and leaning over a sink for an hour definitely puts some strain on your lower back.
But I would do it again.
I imagine that Judaism is the same way. Even when you can do nothing, it’s rewarding to voluntarily participate in the rituals and practices that define Judaism. You feel like you did something significant.
Participation, not belief, is what matters.