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Friday, 19 June 2015

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 25


The other day, I crossed the street from Sir Winston Churchill Square to the Stanley Milner Library, and I was booked for jaywalking.  Now, we’re all familiar with the concept; but I must say, I’ve never actually met anyone who was charged with the crime.  And so, while I certainly admit that I was wrong and acted inappropriately, I was shocked when the officer booked me.   The good news was that, as a first-time offender, I was let off with a warning.  But they took down my details, and I was told that next time, it will be a $250 fine.  I regret my actions and I will certainly strive to make sure that there is no next time. 

The Beraisa states: When our teacher Moshe made the people swear at the Plains of Moab, he said to them, “Know ye, I am not making you swear according to how you understand the oath; rather according to my understanding and the Omnipresent’s understanding.”
The Gemara explains: Perhaps you will act contrary to the Torah and you will say that we swore to keep it according to our understanding of its meaning.  Therefore, Moshe specified that they were to swear according to his intended meaning.    For example, when we are told to do ‘whatever G-d commanded’ they might say that when they said ‘god’ they were thinking ‘idol,’ and so it is not dependent upon our interpretation and understanding, rather Moshe’s intention.

Many people treat their Judaism as a dinner menu that they can pick and choose from.  Some items on the menu they like and will do.  Others are not so appetizing or appealing and so they’ll skip them.  

But Judaism is not a bottom-up, grassroots movement.  Torah and mitzvos are, by definition, top-down.  Mitzvah means commandment and you don’t get to pick which commandments you choose to obey.  And likewise, you don’t get to choose your own interpretation of the Law.  When we swore the oath of the covenant at the Plains of Moab, Moshe made it very clear that the system is not up for individual interpretation.

Maybe I should have turned around to the officer and said, ‘I don’t subscribe to the law against jaywalking.’  Of course, that is ludicrous.  I don’t get to choose which laws to subscribe to.  Laws and commandments by their very definition are imposed from above.   I would have been equally out of line had I started trying to offer my own interpretation of what jaywalking means.  Who am I to say?  The lawmakers get to decide that.

You are most fortunate to have either been born into a special covenant with the Almighty or have converted into the chosen covenantal nation.   The terms of the covenant were established thousands of years ago, according to the Omnipresent’s mitzvah – command.  If you desire to remain part of that covenantal relationship, it means accepting the will of G-d and His intention.  That’s the only meaning of mitzvah.


You are one of the lucky few in this world.  You were chosen to serve.  You were chosen to be a child of the Almighty.  May you merit accepting and fulfilling your mission according to the understanding of Hashem and His servant, Moses!