In India there is the tradition of the Vedas. Although this knowledge is associated with Hinduism, they also stand alone as a profound body of Knowledge. These are ancient books, texts and treatises that talk about the Reality of the Universe and are a guide to Enlightenment. Enlightenment, as espoused by the Vedas, is that state of consciousness in which one is attuned to the mechanisms of the Universe and all of his or her actions are correct from that standpoint.
There are gurus in India who live in the Himalayas and practice this body of knowledge all their lives. People go to learn and study from these gurus. They spend a great deal of time serving these wise men (usually) and by almost osmosis, gain enlightenment in that service.
From the Vedas, we get “yoga”. This Sanskrit word means “yoke”, as in the center of an egg, and the connotation is “union”. The idea of practicing yoga, then, is to gain union with the Cosmos and thus gain enlightenment, that state of consciousness in which one performs right action spontaneously.
There are different forms of yoga. Many of us hear that word and think of Hatha Yoga, the various poses that are practiced in succession to gain a state of relaxation or more commonly as a workout. Other forms of yoga exist, such as meditation. Another form of yoga is Karma Yoga, the practice of right action.
In our flow of Torah, we are now reading from the book of Exodus. Hashem has dispatched Pharaoh and his minions and made the Egyptians impotent to harass the Israelites. The Torah now focuses on the course of building up and developing this beautiful philosophy and heritage that we now call “Judaism”. As Genesis talked about the origins of our culture with key figures who recognized the Oneness and Omniscience of the ever-present G-d (gurus, sort of), we now focus on the principles that will forever drive our new culture as it builds into a new religion.
Moses, our main guru, now starts to introduce the Israelites to our own Karma Yoga, which are, of course, the commandments. He is given by G-d to give to the Israelites at first the Ten Commandments. These are the base of our lives, and the other 603 commandments will build on them and emanate from them.
Torah is our Veda and the commandments are our Karma Yoga, our right action. People say, “I wish there was a rule book on life”. There is. We are studying it.
When you perform right action, or “mitzvot”, you live a good life. The second paragraph of the Shema is called by our sages/gurus as the paragraph of justice, or, you guessed it, karma. As you do, so do you receive. If you diligently perform the commandments in accord with the b'rit or covenant, good things will happen. If you don’t, bad things will happen.
The rabbis call this “measure for measure” as in eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. It is very easy in Judaism to perform right action and thereby live a righteous life. Just follow the commandments and everything will fall into place and you will live an enlightened life.
Well, not really. We all know that reality is a little different than that concept. Theory doesn’t always play out in reality.
That doesn’t mean the concept is wrong and you shouldn’t strive to be righteous. Things happen on their own accord and in their own time. As the third paragraph of the Shema states in telling us to put tzitzit in the corners of our garments and mezuzot on the doorposts of our houses and gates, we should not follow our hearts or our eyes, but stick to these commandments. This is the reminder that righteousness is a constant and lifelong process and why we study Torah.
What happens when you do good? You create a goodness around you. Sure there will be bad around you and people who don’t have your best interests, and situations that are not to your liking, but the point of this Jewish Karma Yoga is show you the path as to how to deal with things as they come up.
As we practice Judaism and live these commandments, we see our lives surround us with good influence more and more. When we encounter challenges that may either be a result of previous not-so-good actions or maybe a test to sharpen our resolve, we always revert back to G-d’s Law.
And that way, we know that we’re doing right and getting closer and closer to enlightenment.