Rabbi Rant: Because I Said So

I remember the biggest temper tantrum I ever had. I was about 5 years old at a baseball game at Wrigley Field. In front of me was a lady with a big bag of peanut M&Ms, and I wanted to ask her if I could have a few. My parents said I couldn’t, and when I asked why, they gave me the answer that set me into a rage: “Because I said so.”

That classic parental go-to has exasperated children since way back when. We count down the days to adulthood when we can free ourselves from the shackles of their controlling and arbitrary ways.

So when it comes to Judaism, how do I react when told that something should matter “because God said so?” I revert to my five-year-old self at Wrigley Field, demanding a better explanation (with slightly less crying).

Few, if any of us, accept that type of religious justification. This makes connecting to the holiday of Shavuot, a day we celebrate receiving the Torah, particularly challenging. Whereas other holidays are less focused on the divine, it would seem the Torah’s significance is inextricably tied to it. We should care about the Torah because God wrote it. Once you bring God into it, there’s really no further explanation needed.

But this is a lazy approach to Judaism, and living a thoughtful Jewish life requires more thoughtful answers to basic questions like “Why care about the Torah?” “God said so” is not a full answer. (It begs the follow-up question: “But why would God say so?”) And it’s only one answer. There are many other compelling answers that aren’t rooted in God at all. (I shared 3 last year.)

Shavuot is a time to ask yourself what the Torah means to you, to entertain the possibility that it has meaning outside of its author / religious authority. It might be that those answers are equally non-compelling. At the very least, we can share some dairy desserts together. I know cheesecake is the classic choice, but I’m going to be enjoying a big bag of peanut M&Ms.

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