You shall keep my commandments, and you shall do them: I am the Lord.Vayikra 22:31
Keep: This means learning. Do: This means the action itself.Rashi
Why does God use two different verbs regarding how we are to conduct ourselves regarding the commandments? Isn’t doing them the same as keeping them, and vice versa?
Even the word “keep” is complicated; “u-sh’martem” has its root in shamar, “guard” or “protect.” If you hear someone say they are “shomer Shabbos” or “shomer Shabbat” – someone like the character Walter in The Big Lebowski – it means they are extra careful to practice the restrictions on creative work during the Sabbath day. The same word is used for a night watchman protecting a business or a town. Why does a commandment from God need protecting like a jewelry story needs a security guard, or like a VIP needs a bodyguard?
Rashi clarifies: To protect a commandment, you need to learn it. You need to study it. And not just once: In the customary manner of Jewish learning, you need to go back and study it again and again from time to time to remind yourself about it – not just how to do the thing, but why we do it, and what it accomplishes for us. If you don’t learn about it, how will you know what to do, how to do it, when, and why?
On the flip side, what does it mean to do something without learning about it? People practice traditions and rituals they copy from others all the time without understanding what they are practicing. Trouble is, this kind of practice can hardly be called meaningful, and it’s much tougher to encourage others to practice it, or, say, teach your children to practice it, if you don’t understand why you’re doing it yourself.
Even simpler: You may be doing it wrong. Awkward!
The punchline today is, if you want to maintain a holy practice or build a good habit and protect it – that is, sustain it for yourself, and safeguard it for others you might teach – learn about it, review it, and understand it.
And, of course, don’t forget to do it.
Question of the day: What’s a commandment from the Torah or a Jewish practice you’d like to learn more about? Please let me know in the comments below.