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I understand a number of reasons why the Jewish community keeps so many rules to the level of minutiae. But why SUCH a level of intricacy in some of these laws?

I looked through a large book on the laws of brachos, because this is one aspect of Jewish practice that resonates very loudly to me (I’m in the conversion process). I love that we make these blessings, and that all make them in the same way. But why so much detail about exactly when and how? It’s essentially just a way of blessing God, right, and thanking Him? And these are for the most part rabbinically designed (so I'm not asking why God cares for details; I'm asking about the additional ones that have been instituted by the community).

Would people really go way off the path or out of sync if the blanket rules were simpler, open to a bit of interpretation but still a real and binding idea? It is strange to me to be told you can waste a blessing, or that you should be careful exactly how much you ate or when you pray.

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It's interesting that the laws of blessings are almost all Rabinic, in other words, the Rabbis instituted them to be hard and detailed. –  Shmuel Brin Oct 24 '13 at 5:14
    
I wonder, by the way, how much simpler the laws of blessings would be given the incredibly simple and straightforward diet of ancient times. –  Double AA Oct 25 '13 at 5:27
    
As far as the how of blessings and prayer, My Rabbi said to us in Yeshiva that the Men of the Great Assembly codified a standard prayer template, with the help of the last of the prophets, for an age of diminished spiritual wisdom and perception. Before then, people had the capacity to form their own heartfelt praises and prayers that were profound and true. We lack that capactiy, which is why we have the strict texts to say nowadays. They are essentially our divine enlightenment and 'prophecy'. –  Baby Seal Jan 20 at 2:29
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7 Answers

Here's one to start with, on Chabad.org. Key paragraphs:

...the dot [in an e-mail address] is not just a dot. It represents something. That dot has meaning far beyond the pixels on the screen that form it. To me it may seem insignificant, but that is simply due to my ignorance of the ways of the internet. All I know is that with the dot, the message gets to the right destination; without it, the message is lost to oblivion.

Jewish practices have infinite depth. Each nuance and detail contains a world of symbolism. And every dot counts. When they are performed with precision, a spiritual vibration is emailed throughout the universe, all the way to G-d's inbox.

Another point is that we are mistaken if we think of Hashem as a CEO or a president, who needs to be able to focus on the "big picture" rather than getting tangled up in the minutiae that are better delegated to subordinates. Hashem is, as we say in the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers, השוה ומשוה קטן וגדול - the One to whom small and great are equal, because He is infinitely greater than all of them. So the tiny details of mitzvos are no less part of His purview than the big things - and by our paying attention to those tiny details, we demonstrate our belief in this idea.

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This is a great question. With all due respect to the previous valuable answers, I once came across another great answer to this question (I believe from Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz).

Torah is the blueprint of the world. Before something is built, a blueprint is designed to record every detail of the future edifice, and then the blueprint is used to direct its construction. So too, the Torah contained the design of the entire creation. When Hashem created the universe, He followed the plan recorded in the Torah. This is what the Zohar (Shemos 161a) means when it writes that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world. Similarly, Bereishis Rabbah §1:1 states in regards to the creation of the world that the Torah was the tool of Hashem’s craft. Thus, the physical universe is a manifestation of the Torah.

This explains why the Torah is so complex - it parallels the universe's complexity. Crack open any textbook: biology, chemistry, physics, math, psychology, ecology, economics, astronomy etc. The world has a lot of details in it! Given that the Torah was used to create each and every one of those details, it follows that it itself must be very detailed.

A spin-off of this idea is that when we learn or keep the Torah, we affect the entire universe. Have you ever seen a picture of a plane cockpit, or looked at the motherboard and wiring inside a computer? It makes sense that the system of affecting such a complex thing is complex in and of itself.

On a separate note..You might be interested in checking out the archives of beyondbt.com There's lots of discussions about all kinds of issues which might interest you.

Hatzlachah Rabbah (may you have great success)

-Rebbetzin HaQoton

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A few reasons, as I've learned them (waves hands vaguely where sources should be :-) ):

  1. We're doing this for God, whom we love and want desperately to please. Shouldn't we do the best we can to act in a way that pleases God?

  2. God gave us a system of laws -- not just the written torah but the oral torah, which includes the rules for deriving laws for situations not explicitly covered in the written torah. This system describes what God wants from us; if it includes a lot of detail, that detail must be important.

  3. Sometimes there is more beauty/fulfillment/satisfaction/encouragement-to-continue in doing a precise thing correctly, as opposed to just making something up. When I have performed a mitzvah to the best of my ability and knowledge, I feel a certain something that I don't feel when I'm just riffing, guessing about what to do. This is hard to explain, I'm afraid.

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Thanks! I like this answer. When you say "the rules for deriving laws for situations not explicitly covered in the written torah"... does that really cover all of the small details, e.g. how long you have to say a bracha and eat, or how much you need to eat, and such? I value the way Judaism makes rules rather than suggestions, for the community... but can it be articulated why things such as these matter, actually, in the system as it is? –  Annelise Oct 23 '13 at 3:46
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It covers most of them, yes. That there are different communities with different interpretations on some points means it's not 100% guaranteed consistent across the entire Jewish people, but each of those traditions has a sound pedigree that's rooted in the laws given at Sinai, so if you follow your community you're on the right path. For any given law, such as how much you need to eat to support a bracha or how long after sunset Shabbat really ends, a person fluent in the sources can show you how it's derived through the halachic system. –  Monica Cellio Oct 23 '13 at 3:52
    
Mm, thanks. What advice would you give to someone choosing a tradition/community to start with? I feel that some are compromising too much and some are adding too much, but it's hard for me to tell. –  Annelise Oct 23 '13 at 4:06
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You said you're in the conversion process; do you have a rabbi yet? If so, you'll follow his tradition/community. If not, I suggest a new question about choosing a community if you don't already have a tie to one (a problem faced by some converts and ba'alei t'shuvah). –  Monica Cellio Oct 23 '13 at 12:56
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1) When we do Mitzvos for H', it is not because H' needs our mitzvos. It is because H' wants us to make a relationship with Him and He knows the best way for that to happen.

On a person's 25th anniversary, would they rather a bouquet of roses or, a cake just like the one they ordered on their first date with flowers that are the same color of the tie he was wearing when they met. Obviously, (although a little bit cheesy), the second choice is preferable.When you're working on a relationship, the MOST important aspect is remembering the details!

2) If you work really hard on a dress for someone - fix the hem, dye it for anew color, sew thirteen flowers on it, each exactly two inches apart, etc. and you work on it for three weeks, how will you feel if they say: "thanks for the dress." Um, that's nice but do you see how the flowers match the dress perfectly? Did you notice that I fixed the zipper? Do you REALIZE how much work went into this?

The same applies to H' - When we put a seed in the ground, H' makes it rot and then grow, makes the water seep into the seed causing growth, makes a plant come out of the ground, makes it grow wheat, the wheat is threshed, we grind it into flour, we combine the ingredients for bread, we knead and bake until finally you are sitting with a peanut butter sandwich. How would H' feel if we said "thanks" and then took a bite. Um, do you even realize what just happened? Each food has its own bracha because H' wants us to think about it and to show we really know what we are eating/ THe ochel vs. the pesoles, what are we eating it for.... all these details ARE really necessary - to properly thank H'!

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T.S., welcome to Mi Yodeya and thanks for this answer. If these insights are another's, your answer would be more dependable if you'd indicate whose. In any event, I hope you stick around and enjoy the site. Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. –  msh210 Feb 21 '13 at 20:08
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רבי חנניא בן עקשיא אומר, רצה הקדוש ברוך הוא לזכות את ישראל, לפיכך הרבה להם תורה ומצות, שנאמר (ישעיה מב, כא) יקוק חפץ למען צדקו יגדיל תורה ויאדיר.‏
Rabbi Channanya ben 'Akashya said: the Holy One, blessed be He, wanted to give Israel merits, therefore He increased for them the Torah and its commandments, as it says (Isaiah 42:21): The Lord was pleased, for His righteousness' sake, to make the teaching great and glorious.

Mishna, Makkot 3:16

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I woudl say simply from the verse in Devarim 8:16

המאכילך מן במדבר, אשר לא-ידעון אבותיך: למען ענותך, ולמען נסותך--להיטיבך, באחריתך

which means God starved you in the desert, in order to test you.

So too all these myriad details in halacha are in order to test each person and see the extent of his dedication to God's commandments. This is what God wants as written in Isaiah 66:2:

For all those things has my hand made, and all those things have been, says the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.

i.e. obeys meticulously His torah.

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To add to the others:

When we prepare food we make sure it has the right ingredients and the correct quantity (imagine exchanging the sugar content in a cake with the amount meant for salt even though they look the same) - the same meticulousness should apply to the Berocha.

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Why should the same meticulousness apply to the bracha? Certainly cooking has less particularity than baking. Where along the spectrum does making blessings lie? –  Double AA Oct 25 '13 at 5:03
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