I recently met a Jew who has no use for organized religion. He was all right with the morals and ethics; he applauded our sense of fair play and dedication to natural justice but didn’t see the need for the pettifogging details of daily observance. He claims to see the forest from the trees and observes the spirit of religion rather than the law.

Why do religious people insist on uniformity of expression?

“Take Shabbat as an example” he argued; “you’ve taken a beautiful weekly commitment to rest and good fellowship and spoiled it with an irritating list of nitpicking trivialities. I certainly celebrate the day of rest, yet I do it in my way, on my terms. Why do religious people insist on uniformity of expression rather than allowing everyone to observe Judaism in line with their own natural rhythms?”

I argued that while there is definitely scope within Judaismfor people to emphasize those observances that matter most to them, and no one would argue with the concept that religion should be a function of love rather than blind obedience, yet there is purpose in accentuating the minutiae of daily living.

Shabbat is the perfect example. We read, “And the children of Israel The Jewish people should observe the Shabbat, to make the Shabbat, an everlasting covenant throughout the generations (Exodus 31:16).” There are two levels of Shabbat, observance and making.

At first glance Shabbat is a natural part of life.

At first glance Shabbat is a natural part of life; cycling from the crash and burn of weekday exhaustion to the holiness and rest of weekend relaxation. As our lives ebb and flow, Shabbat is observed, as a G‑dly-directed steadier that makes living worthwhile.

Yet we must also make the Shabbat. We’ve got to work at Judaism. We transform this 24-hour period from just another humdrum day into a weekly journey of self-discovery and cosmic transformation. By investing every moment and action with significance, we transform ourselves and, by extension, irrevocably alter the very fabric of our existence.

So too with every mitzvah we do and every observance we fulfill. By living up to G‑d’s wishes we simultaneously bring love, meaning and morality to our lives, while conforming to the technicalities of G‑d’s vision for the world.