People often ask me, â€œwhat mitzvah was the hardest one to take on? Was it covering your hair, or eating kosher, or the laws of mikvah?â€ I reply: â€œNone of the above. It was the attitude change I had to make, which I still struggle with to this day, even after over a decade of observance.â€
â€œDoes G-d really care about this detail?â€ This is the question that haunts me. Why would the creator of the Universe care about whether I wait 3, 4, or 6 hours after eating meat before I enjoy an ice cream cone? Why does the Almighty concern Himself with which bird is sacrificed for which sin, and the actual materials that go into the building of the mishkan? If I listen to music today, or my husband and son get a haircut, and itâ€™s not Lag Bâ€™Omer yet, this matters to Hashem? The same creator who gave us oceans, and mountains, and oxygen? Details, details, details, the Torah is filled with millions of them, and my former allegiance to being Reform crops up time and again. I make Judaism a me-centered religion every time I ask this question: â€œWhy canâ€™t I just do it my way instead?â€
Itâ€™s been sinking in slowly over the last ten years: to become observant means that I believe that G-d does care about these details, and even when I question a certain detail, I ACT as if G-d cares, because I now believe that if itâ€™s in the Torah, and if itâ€™s been passed along by the oral tradition for thousands of years, then G-d really does pay attention to what I put in my mouth, or on my head, or in my heart. I canâ€™t fathom it, but thatâ€™s my limitation.
Yesterday I made a silly faux pas in the kitchen, and it led me to think about this question metaphorically.
I was making brownies from scratch for Shabbos — Ultra rich godiva chocolate fudge brownies. Even though I published a kosher cookbook for those concerned about eating kosher food with less fat, calories and carbs, this recipe was NOT in that book! Nothing dietetic about them. I placed them into the oven to bake and started to clean the kitchen. One finger swipe of the chocolate ganache pan told me these brownies were going to be worth the calories. Then I took another finger swipe from the batter bowl — and gagged. It was one of the worst tastes I could ever describe. What went wrong?
It didnâ€™t take long to figure out that I had mixed up the two jars in my kitchen — one that read salt, and one that read sugar. Long ago I poured sugar and salt into glass jars that sit on my kitchen counter to make it easier to bake without shlepping the sugar or salt out of my pantry. Do you know what brownies taste like when you put 1 1/4 cups of salt into the batter instead of 1 1/4 cups of sugar?
Pretty darn awful.
I had to throw away the whole pan, and as I was cleaning up the mess, I got to thinking. I learned my lesson — my salt and sugar will now be put in dissimilar looking jars. Iâ€™ll only make this mistake once. But more than that:
What if G-d has a very precise recipe for how the world is supposed to operate, and how I, as a Jew, am supposed to live my life? Maybe the sugar and the salt look a lot a like, but substituting one for the other results in one lousy tasting brownie.
To be observant means that when Iâ€™m tempted to substitute my own ways for Hashemâ€™s, I can remember the taste of that brownie gone wrong in my mouth.
Torah is the recipe I am to follow. Lucky for me, thereâ€™s more sugar in it than salt.
Originally published May, 2007