Experiencing the Power of Mitzvot

Much has been written about the problem of young people deviating from Yiddishkeit, and a number of contributing factors have been described. One of the factors that must be considered lies in the Yiddish proverb, “Fun kein guts antloift men nisht, One does not run away from something pleasant.” Similarly, Shlomo Hamelech says, “The ways of [the Torah] are pleasant” (Mishlei 3:17). Perhaps we are remiss in communicating the pleasantness of Torah.

For example, the Talmud says that Shabbat is “a taste of Paradise.” True, Shabbat is a wonderful day of rest and very often, a spiritual day. But can we honestly say that the way we observe Shabbat is “a taste of Paradise?” The Midrash says that with the onset of Shabbat we should feel that everything has been completed, and there is nothing left undone (Rashi, Shemot 20:9). I do not owe anyone money, and no one owes me any money. All the merchandise has arrived, and all orders have been filled and delivered. Shabbat is the absolute rest.

One’s speech on Shabbat should be different from that of the weekdays. During the week, we may not speak lashon hara, lie or use indecent language. Our speech on Shabbat must be even more spiritual than this. Shabbat should be a true Shabbat shalom, with no anger or arguments. One’s face should radiate the holiness of Shabbat.

If Shabbat were observed in this way, it would indeed be “a taste of Paradise.” Alas! Although we abstain from work on Shabbat, we would be less than honest if we claimed to observe it to the fullest.

But it is not enough for Yiddishkeit to be pleasant, it must be meaningful too. For one’s Judaism to be meaningful, it is essential to go beyond the rote performance of mitzvot and understand the messages these commandments convey.

The Midrash says that the mitzvot were given to us for no reason other than to refine one’s character. How does avoiding mixing meat with milk make one into a better person? How does shaking the etrog and lulav refine one’s character traits? An in-depth study of the mitzvot could help us appreciate their character-enhancing effects.

The Talmud says that the verse “You shall love Hashem” can also be read as “You shall make Hashem beloved;” i.e., behave in a manner that will earn the admiration of Hashem and the Torah. If one transacts honestly and speaks softly and politely, people will praise Hashem and the Torah (Yoma 86a). It is the manifestation of beautiful middot (character traits) that will endear the Torah to our children.

Our great Torah personalities were paragons of beautiful middot. If we emulate them, we will demonstrate the beauty of Yiddishkeit to our children.

Rabbi Mordechai of Neschiz longed to have a tallit katan made of wool from sheep that grazed in the Holy Land. In the early 1800s this was not easy to attain, but after much effort, the piece of wool arrived. Rabbi Mordechai gave it to a student to cut a hole so that he would be able to wear it. In his zeal, the student folded it one time too many so that instead of one hole there were two. The long-awaited wool was ruined, and with trembling hands the student showed the damaged wool to his master.

Rabbi Mordechai only sighed. “Actually,” he said, “this tallit katan needed two holes: one to fit over the head, and the other to see whether I could be provoked to anger.”

Conscientious adherence to the mitzvot that pertain to every facet of our lives will demonstrate the pleasantness of Torah to our children. If they experience the Torah as being both pleasant and meaningful, they will remain loyal to the Torah.

 

The founder and medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Rabbi Twerski, MD, is one of the country’s leading experts on drug and alcohol rehabilitation. He is the author of numerous books including Dear Rabbi, Dear Doctor (Brooklyn, 2005) and From Pulpit to Couch (Pittsburgh, 2005). His column is regularly featured in Jewish Action.

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This article was featured in the Summer 2006 issue of Jewish Action.
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