Thursday, August 2, 2018

What Is The Value Of A Mitzvah?

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This week's parsha, Eikev, begins, "V'haya eikev tishmeun," which means, "And it will be, (eikev) because you will listen." Then it lists a bunch of blessings that we will get for listening. 

The word used to say "because," is "eikev," which is not the normal word used to say this, in fact, it is not a common word to use at all. It is obvious that the Torah is trying to hint something by using this strange word. What is it trying to tell us? 

Rashi explains, that the word eikev could also mean a heel, and he says that the words in the verse mean, "If you will keep the less important mitzvahs, that get trampled by a person's heel." The source of his explanation is from the Midrash, which says, "Less important mitzvahs that people aren't careful with, rather, they cast them under their heels." 

The words of Rashi are clear, he talks about mitzvahs that are trampled on, which is what a heel does, it steps on things. However, we have to understand the words of the Midrash, because if someone casts away a mitzvah, he is throwing it away, what is the difference if it is under his heel or not? What is the Midrash trying to tell us by adding that it is under the heels? 

The Midrash continues to say, that this is the meaning of what King David said, "Why should I fear in days of misfortune? The iniquity of (akeivai) my heels surround me." David was saying that he wasn't afraid "of the strict mitzvahs of the Torah," rather, "of the less important mitzvahs, perhaps I didn't keep one of them... because it was less important, and you said to be careful with a lenient mitzvah as (you would) with a strict one." 

Surely David kept all the mitzvahs, even the lenient ones, the Midrash actually continues to say so, bringing David's words, "Also Your servant was careful with them, (eikev) because in observing them, there is much reward." So what does he mean by saying that he is afraid because of his inobservance of the less important mitzvahs? 

The Midrash is not talking about a person who thinks that you shouldn't keep the less important mitzvahs at all, on the contrary, he thinks that you should keep them, and for the most part, he does. It is just that he "casts them under the heels," meaning, he pushes them off later and later, until after the heel, meaning, that they come at the very end. 

He has a very good reason for doing this. He argues, "first I have to make sure that the head is in order, meaning, the strict mitzvahs, then the less strict mitzvahs, after I am done with them, if I have time, I will take care of the heel, the less important mitzvahs, and perhaps after that I will do the extras that beautify a mitzvah, or go beyond what is expected according to the letter of the law. There is an order that one should follow, and that is what I am doing." 

He argues, "What do you expect from me, I'm not ready for it yet, let me do the basics, the biggies, and after I am used to them, I will think about the small stuff." 

He even comes up with a clever anecdote, "You say that a Jew has to love another Jew, even if he has never met him before, I am having a hard enough time with the ones I know. It is like someone who is not wearing a shirt, but he has a tie around his neck." 

Sounds logical, however, if you want to have the blessings in our parsha, the Midrash tells us that we have to keep the heel mitzvahs, and David was afraid of not keeping these mitzvahs well enough. It seems that these mitzvahs are super important, but they are called lenient, or less important mitzvahs. How are we to make sense of this? 

There are two ways to approach mitzvahs. You can come from a position of understanding, in this approach, there is an order to the mitzvahs, some are stricter than others. Then there is doing what Hashem wants, from a position of accepting his yoke, to do the mitzvahs, "because He commanded us," and because when you do a mitzvah, you are connecting to the essence of Hashem. As it is explained, mitzvah is related to the word tzavsa, which means a connection. Every time you do a mitzvah, you are connecting with Hashem's essence. From this approach, it doesn't matter which mitzvah you are doing, every mitzvah is Hashem's will, every mitzvah connects you to His essence equally. 

The question is: Which one of these approaches are more in line with Jewish values? The parsha, the Midrash and King David are telling you, that you should keep the heel mitzvahs, as you would keep the head mitzvahs, they are all the same. And if we follow this approach, we receive the amazing blessings found in our parsha. 

This is a general idea in Judaism. Belief and faith must come before understanding. When we stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, we said, "We will do and we will listen." Doing Hashem's will and connecting with His essence is first and most important. Understanding is also important, but it's second. 

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, once hired a teacher for his children. This teacher was of the opinion, that children shouldn't be told stories of wonders and miracles until they were older and already had a firm knowledge in Torah. When his father, the Rebbe Rashab, who was the Rebbe at the time, found out the teacher's opinion, he was quickly sent on his way. Because it is the stories of wonders and miracles that imbue the children with belief and faith in Hashem. In other words, belief has to come before understanding. 

The evil inclination is clever and he always comes up with a strategy, and this one is a good one. He tells you to do everything, but use your intellect, and follow the order of things. But that is because he is the evil inclination, and he doesn't want you to connect with Hashem's essence. 

And this is why we receive the blessings if we take this approach. Because when we serve Hashem from our understanding, measured and calculated, then He grants our needs in a measured and calculated way, which is not what we want. However, when we serve Hashem beyond our understanding, when we accept the yoke of Heaven and do the mitzvahs because it is His will and because we want to connect with Him, then he gives us uncalculated blessings, infinite and beyond understanding. 

How do you balance between beyond understanding and order? Beyond understanding doesn't have to mean chaos, rather, when you have an opportunity to do a mitzvah, don't start to make calculations, big or small, biblical or rabbinical, whether it is an enactment from the Men of the Great Assembly at the beginning of the second Temple era, the generations that followed or even from the last generation, it is all Hashem's will, so do it with your whole heart. We also should not convince ourselves of doing things that Hashem doesn't want, under some logical pretext, to have a personal gain. Hashem's will should be our goal and what we strive for. 

If we act with belief and faith in Hashem, the way he wants us to, He will surely bestow His infinite blessings upon us, and He will give us the ultimate blessing that we long and hope for, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

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