by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
There are a number of reasons you can give for doing a mitzvah. Your reason for doing the mitzvah indicates the spiritual reality you are experiencing.
The sages tell us that when you want to encourage a person to do mitzvahs, you can tell him that if he does them he will get a huge reward in the World to Come. Then, hopefully, as he becomes accustomed to doing them, he will learn to do them for the right reason. So, what then is the right reason?
Some people do mitzvahs simply because they were taught to do them. They have been raised with these customs and have been doing them their entire lives. They never stop to ask themselves why they are doing them. Others do them because they enjoy doing them. Many do them for social reasons—everyone around them is doing them. Some do them because they see that an organized religious life leads to a better family life. Some do them because they love G-d and want to please Him. Most religious Jews say that they do the mitzvahs because G-d commanded us to do them. They nullify their will in order to fulfill G-d’s will. Some serve as a servant of G-d, and some as a loving child of G-d.
So what is the proper way to serve G-d? What should our intention be when we do a mitzvah? Any of these motivations is fine as long as you do the mitzvahs as they have been given, and you do them with joy.
Still, there must be a best way.
If you do the mitzvah simply because you were taught to do it, or just because it is a custom, even at these lower levels of understanding you will be fulfilling the basic requirements of that mitzvah. But the spiritual awareness that that mitzvah can bring will not come to you.
When you do a mitzvah out of love for the One Who wants you to do it, you will enjoy doing it and you will have a loving relationship with G-d. Imagine your bride saying that she wants you to kiss her. You rush to her to satisfy her wish. You do not stop to nullify your will, nor to make an accounting of the merit you will receive by doing what she wants. You do not even try to understand why she asked you for this. You simply rush to her and embrace her and love her with all your heart. When you serve G-d like this, it shows that you have attained the very lofty role of a lover, or child of G-d. But if you do the mitzvahs only out of love, some day you might become lazy and let them slide.
If you do the mitzvahs because you fear the One Who commands them, you have attained the lofty spiritual awareness of a servant of G-d. This is a very high spiritual level, but you may very well become rigid in your life. Acting solely out of obligation can make you feel apprehensive in your service.
So, what is the best way to serve? As a son? A servant? A member of the tribe? How can we get the most out of our performance of mitzvahs?
When an entirely righteous person gives a poor person a coin, his motivating intention is not to do a mitzvah. Nor does he give the coin because he is obligated to give it, although certainly we are obligated to give charity. He does not do it merely out of habit either. He is deeply aware of what he is doing. He does not give it because he fears or loves G-d either, although he certainly does. And he does not do it because he is entirely nullified to G-d. What then is his prime motivation for giving that coin to the poor person?
He gives the poor person the coin simply because the poor person needs it. That is not merely his reasoning, it is his actual experience. Of course, if you ask him why he gave it he could list a number of reasons, but he would be surprised that you even asked. “He needs it.” When he puts up a mezuzah or shakes the luluv, he is doing it for the same reason. His motivating feeling is that the world needs these things. Doing the mitzvahs makes the world a better place.
Surely, the primary reason we do mitzvahs is because G-d commanded us to do them. We learn to do these acts from the Torah. But what is your actual thought, intention, hope, when you are doing the mitzvah? Whatever it is at that time defines your current spiritual level.
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