Well, the title gives it away. I’m one of those — or at least I try to be. Those that will check their woolen suits for traces of linen, those that don’t drive a car on Shabbos, and those that don’t eat ham or shellfish. And that’s only naming a few of the regulations and rituals. In modern terminology, they would be defined as Orthodox Jews.
Honestly, much of it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It isn’t intuitive to own two sets of dishes — one for dairy, other for meat. It might seem strange for the morning routine to include donning the tefillin. And it’s definitely odd to mumble a blessing before partaking of any food. Because observance isn’t normal. Well, unless the ‘observer’ is religiously inspired. Allow me to explain.
In their generic definitions, there is quite a subtle difference between religiosity and observance. I would suggest, however, that these subtleties can make a world of difference. Being observant is a matter of action; one either does or does not concede to the rituals. Religious, by contrast, is the “manifesting of faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.” — (Merriam-webster.com) Basically, the worship of G-d. This inspired fellow may love G-d, revere Him, trust in Him, and/or seek His presence. They relate to the Divine in their lives.
In the Torah, it is a religious obligation to be observant. I.e. the observance is meant to follow one’s relationship with G-d, “You shall fear the Lord, your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments that I command you… And you shall love the Lord…” Yet not every observance is fueled necessarily by religiosity.
Perhaps it can be compared to a body and soul. An act of observance is the body. The love of G-d, the desire to connect with Him and the responsibility towards Him are the fire which fuel the deed. And with a soul, a ‘strange’ ritual may just become ‘normal’.
Allow me to illustrate with the following examples: It may seem uncharacteristic for the company’s CEO to be seen walking the elderly. The act deemed noble, yet somewhat ‘strange’. Unless he’s on a walk with his parents. (Of course, we should reach a point where it’s considered commonplace to do acts of kindness for all individuals. Out of love and respect for one another.) Perhaps you know a fellow who would find it unseemly to be seen in public with a bouquet of flowers. Unless, of course, he’s bringing it home to a significant other. All at once, the act is both beautiful and natural.
Now back to a mitzvah:
You see, the mitzvos are described as G-d’s ultimate desire. And the tools by which He expects us to perfect His world. The means by which to fuse the Infinite with the finite; to reveal His presence within our existence. As we received the Torah on Mt. Sinai (some 3330 years ago) we became partners in His grand scheme. A master plan of sorts, where He envisions an otherness of existence, only to be enveloped in His sublime Oneness. Myriads of detail, to be part of One. His will in this world is that link — as its performance over time has slowly knocked on the door of the world’s conscience, with its message of peace, goodness, and unity. And brought in its wake Divine awareness. (The mission to be completed in the times of Moshiach; the era of perfection.) As either a partner in creation, a seeker of divine truth, or even with the motive of self-fulfillment — through the achievement of life’s purpose, a mitzvah might just be the most natural thing to do.
I do have where to improve in my observance and being honestly religious is the task of a lifetime. My goal, though, is for my observance to be “religious” and my mitzvah to be “normal”. Because then it’s just that much more meaningful. And personal. And is there a better home for the Divine Presence than in that beautiful deed?