by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
Torah and Mitzvahs: Do You Got to Do Them? or, Do You Get to Do Them?
A reader questioned my critical attitude toward Jews doing mitzvahs with an attitude of commitment.
He asked, “What about “naaseh v’nishma?” [This is what we said in the wilderness when we were told that we were going to receive the Torah. Even before seeing it, we said that we will fulfill the Torah and then we will understand it.] This is not physical, and it is a commitment. Doesn’t shmirat hamitzvot [guarding the mitzvahs] require discipline, which is like commitment despite one’s excitement or connection? Is this merely a problem of semantics, or is there more?”
My answer: Of course we are committed to doing mitzvahs, and we must be disciplined, and we are obligated to do them, and we have to be strict in these things… and Oy! Oy! Oy! And on and on. I am not saying that these are necessarily negative.
I am saying that if you love someone, as you love your wife and children, you do not have to make a commitment to feed them, and to hug them …. these are things that you want to do. They are enjoyable, and they make you feel good when you do them. Of course you are obligated to do them, but you are not doing them because you are obligated. Are you “strict” in hugging them? Have you disciplined yourself to kiss them? No, you love them and you lovingly look for opportunities to hug and kiss them. The mother loves feeding her baby, even more than the baby loves to eat.
The primary motivating factor when doing a mitzvah should not be lower level fear (Ooow! Don’t hit me!). It should, hopefully, be higher level fear (Wonderment!) and both lower and higher levels of love.
Lower level fear is when you are afraid that someone or something is going to hurt you. Higher level fear is AWE. Lower level love is when you say, “Come to me, I want you.” Higher level love is when you say, “I love you. How can I help you?”
No one loves us more than our Creator. No one’s Presence is more delightful than G-d’s. We have every reason to love Him and to serve Him, and as long as we are trying to behave ourselves, we have no reason to think that He is going to hurt us.
A mitzvah is a way to experience something holy, so we can be like Hashem. “You shall be holy because I am holy.”[i] For instance, we givetzedaka (charity) because we are to be generous. We are to be generous because G-d is generous. We light Shabbos candles because we are to bring light into the world on Shabbos. We bring light into the world on Shabbos because G-d brings light into the world on Shabbos. We make Kiddush to sanctify the holy day. We sanctify the holy day because G-d sanctifies the holy day. We put on tefillin to remind us of His commandments. G-d “remembers” us when we remember Him.
On and on, the mitzvahs are tools that bring us both spiritual and physical joy. The renowned Rosh Hayeshiva (head of a Torah academy) Reb Moshe Feinstein, obm, used to say, “Everyone who complained, saying that it was ‘hard to be a Jew,’ [a common Yiddish saying]… his children left a Torah life.”
The Torah does not come to give us a burden. It comes to take the burden away. Life without Torah runs in senseless circles mostly chasing physical things that, when we get them, we see that we did not even want them.
A true Torah life brings moment-to-moment joy, both physically and spiritually. It also gives us a wonderful share in the World to Come. If you think that you are observing Torah and mitzvahs, and you are not truly happy, you are not doing what G-d said to do, and you are causing yourself greatdamage.[ii]
[i] Leviticus 11:45
[ii] “…all these curses came upon you… because you did not serve G-d, with gladness and goodness of heart.” Deuteronomy 28:47