As you may know the Jewish Mitzvah system involves hundreds of more “commandments” than the popular Ten. There are 613: 248 “do’s” and 365 “don’ts”. The don’ts outnumber the dos by a considerable number.
In this case the negatives and the positives all involve making choices that lead to positives, better focus on doing what is right, in the myriad moments we go through, in the course of each day. The negatives reflect self-discipline; the positives reflect assertiveness and responsiveness. The fact that there are more don’ts in keeping us in balance is ironic in that outside of the Judaic system these terms, positive and negative, have very different application and meaning. The result is the same, but the impact, perhaps, the opposite.
In secular culture, we associate what is negative, not with self discipline, but, with what is bad, upsetting, wrong, unfair, and or devastating. The positives associate with all that is good, pleasing, happy and joyous about life. It is human nature to take the positives for granted and let the negatives grab our attention. If enough things go wrong, we can find ourselves in a cycle spiraling downward, with what feels like no way out of our morass.
How paradoxical that, in order to change our perspective on life, Judaism gives us the majority of the mitzvot as negatives, not to reinforce our tendency to give them more play than positives, but rather to “not let” them have, ideally, any play, at all. You could think of it as a cosmic double negative leading to a positive. You are not allowed to be negative. You are not allowed to do anything bad, wrong, inappropriate, or selfish. By being negative about negativity, not only do we neutralize the bad stuff, we leave ourselves with a plethora of positives, as if to turn the negative energy in a direction of assertiveness, to make good things happen and assure that blessings can come alive.
Shabbat is a vivid example of how the negatives and positives work together. The assertiveness is in determining to set Day Seven apart from the other six; the “command” is to “do” Shabbat, to “mindfully keep/observe” it and to “remember” it, while in it, and at other times of the week, when the secular negatives threaten to drive out consciousness of the positives. Once you are positively engaging Shabbat, your experience is governed by negatives: don’t create, make things, spend money, do your daily business, conduct that day like any other.
To place the Judaic approach in first position, rather than the secular, means to find a moment (a positive move) to not do everything else (the negative fragmented frenzy that pervades the day) and allow yourself to sit (positive) and reflect on any small and large good (or not bad!) moments and experiences that have transpired to that point in the day. The early morning Birchot Hashachar, blessings of appreciation, for what is good, is a starting point and symbol of what we can do in pauses throughout each day.
When we can find ways to stop to notice the blessings, the things not going wrong, we allow ourselves to change the energy and attitude we bring to the day. The self discipline of doing that periodically in a day (perhaps on a coffee break, a “power” walk, or time to stretch) will allow us to see all the bad stuff in a new light and different perspective. It will still hurt, and the pain will not necessarily be any less. It is more that we will no longer allow these negative to have as much power in our lives and their hold on the meaning of the day.
To evaluate the statistics of the 365 negatives vs. the 248 positives, it takes more self discipline than assertiveness to move in the direction of positive attitude about life overall. We have to continue to use our inclination to “no”, only in a very different way and purpose than how we incline to “no” in our secular sense of life. Giving “no” the power of self discipline gives “yes” more meaning and greater attention in our lives. Each and every thing we do and perceive as positive in daily life will become so much more meaningful and significant.
It is more likely, by living in this system, that we will have better days and see more good and do well, even as we face tomorrow and attempt to navigate life’s increasing complexities, challenges, and precarious times.