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Tuesday
Aug012017

TAKE YOUR MITVZOS

MOSHE’S GREATEST WISH

Moshe’s greatest wish and desire was to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel, the Promised Land. G-d had sworn that He would not allow him to enter because he did not sanctify G-d’s name when told to speak to the rock to produce water for the Jewish people.

Moshe could not take no for answer. He prayed persistently. In fact, according to our Sages, Moshe prayed the number of prayers equivalent to the numerical value (Gematria) of “VaEschanan-And I implored” (the opening word of our parsha), which is 515. [Interestingly, 515 is also the numerical value of the words T’filla-prayer and Shira-song.]

Moshe only stopped praying when G-d told him emphatically and unequivocally, “Enough of your (requests)! Do not speak to Me anymore about this matter!”

A CRYPTIC MIDRASH

There is a cryptic Midrash that says the following about G-d’s exchange with Moshe about this matter:

“I wrote that you are a wise person, as it says, ‘a wise person takes Mitzvos’ so how can you desire to enter into the land?”

What does Moshe’s obsession with “taking Mitzvos” have to do with his desire to enter the land?

Making things even cloudier, the Talmud (Sota 14a) states:

“Why did Moshe our teacher want to enter the Land of Israel? Did he need to eat of its fruit? Or did he need to sate himself of its bounty? Rather, this is what Moshe said, ‘there are many Mitzvos that the Jewish people have been commanded that can only be fulfilled in the Land of Israel. I will enter the Land so that they could all be fulfilled by me.’”

G-d’s response to Moshe, according to this Talmudic tradition, was:

“Do you seek anything other than to gain reward? I will reckon it for you as if you had performed them.”

In other words, Moshe’s desire to enter the land was not for its beauty but to fulfill the additional Mitzvos that can only be observed in Israel.

So how can the Midrash say that Moshe’s desire to enter the land contradicted his wisdom in taking Mitzvos? After all, his desire was completely about doing more Mitzvos.

Another question has been raised. What did G-d mean when He said, “Do you seek anything other than to gain reward?” Was G-d saying that Moshe was concerned with a reward? How could anyone, let alone G-d Himself, think that Moshe served G-d in order to earn a reward and not altruistically?

MOSHE WAS TOO BUSY TO TAKE THE WEALTH

To answer these questions, we must refer to another Midrash. It describes the scene after the Jews crossed the Red Sea and the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the shore. The entire nation, except for Moshe, became preoccupied with removing the ornate jewelry the Egyptians wore when they pursued the liberated Jewish nation.

Moshe, however, did not participate in this activity. He was too busy carrying the remains of Joseph. It was Moshe’s choice to carry Yoseph’s remains instead of looting the dead Egyptians that prompted our Sages to cite the verse, “the wise-hearted takes Mitzvos.”

The question is asked what his desire to do the Mitzvah had to do with his wisdom? Shouldn’t they have said, “a pious or righteous person takes Mitzvos?”

Another question follows: The Jewish people were commanded by G-d to take the wealth of Egypt with them. They fulfilled that Mitzvah prior to the Exodus, but when the bodies of the Egyptian pursuers washed up on shore adorned with more of their wealth, free for the taking, weren’t the Jewish people just finishing the Mitzvah they began in Egypt? Why then is Moshe the one who is credited with taking Mitzvos and not those who helped themselves to the jewelry?

PERFORMING OR TAKING A MITZVAH

One may answer this question by examining the Hebrew word for “taking,” which is yikach. The Torah also uses this word in describing the act of marriage: “When a man takes a wife.” The connotation is that one takes and becomes unified with a Mitzvah just as the unification that occurs through marriage. Taking a Mitzvah is not just performing a Mitzvah; it is being married to it.

In all other relationships, there is a benefit which each party acquires from the other. But only in marriage does one partner also give everything to the other because they have become as one. The Zohar says that marriage is the reunification of two half souls that were separated at birth. One gives one’s totality to the other in marriage. In all other relationships, we give and take a lesser array of the aspects, resources and benefits of the other partner.

When we perform a Mitzvah, we can do it in either of two ways: The first is to perform the Mitzvah in the most perfect and meticulous way but with our focus on one aspect of the Mitzvah. In that case, we have not yet acquired the Mitzvah and become attached to it.

The second approach is performing the Mitzvah with our focus on its totality. We identify with it then and, in turn, it defines us. The Mitzvah contributes all of its G-dly light to us and we contribute all of the G-dly light in our soul to the Mitzvah. Once we perform the Mitzvah with our entirety—when we “take” the Mitzvah—the Mitzvah itself is enhanced.

To determine the nature of our relationship to a Mitzvah, we have to understand our motives for doing it. When we are excited to do a Mitzvah that brings us physical gratification it is still a Mitzvah but we have to ask ourselves, what are we taking from this Mitzvah?

To be sure, the main purpose of any Mitzvah is the fulfillment of G-d’s will. For example, when a Jew puts on T’fillin because it is G-d’s will, it is definitely a Mitzvah, even if we experience nothing. But it is also G-d’s will that the Mitzvah should impart something to the person who does it.

The ideal Mitzvah occurs when we take from the Mitzvah all of its “rewards,” i.e., all the spiritual benefits that a Mitzvah engenders. We seek to have the Mitzvah refine us, edify us and elevate us. Just as in an ideal marriage, the partners grow together, each giving their entire being to the other and each reaping the rewards from the other.

MOSHE’S WISDOM

This explains the difference between Moshe’s Mitzvah of taking care of Yoseph’s remains and the Mitzvah of the Jews stripping riches from the dead bodies of the Egyptians.

Whereas those Jews were doing a Mitzvah, the Mitzvah did little for them other than enriching them materially. They were credited with a Mitzvah, but it was a very limited one.

In stark contrast, Moshe was wise because he saw in the performance of his Mitzvah the opportunity to take the Mitzvah; to become attached to it in ways that would impart important lessons to him. This demonstrated his wisdom and his ability to see much more deeply into the dynamic of performing a Mitzvah. His understanding inspired him to seize the opportunity to do a Mitzvah in a way that would enrich him on all levels, physical and spiritual. Moshe was taking the Mitzvah, not just doing it.

We can now understand why Moshe wanted so desperately to enter the Promised Land. He wanted to take on all the Mitzvos that can only be fulfilled there and see that they would be fulfilled by him. The Talmud doesn’t say that he wanted to fulfil them, but puts the verb in the passive tense, e.g., that they should be fulfilled through him. He knew that when he did the Mitzvos in the Promised Land, he would inspire others to perform them in a manner where they would “take” the totality of the Mitzvos. Without Moshe’s wise approach to Mitzvos, the People would be left lacking.

This is what Moshe meant by getting a reward for his observance of the Mitzvos. Reward for Moshe was not some material or spiritual benefit. Rather, it was taking the Mitzvah in a manner that would unleash all of its energy and effects. G-d therefore promised him that his influence would still prevail even if he were not to cross the Jordan and personally fulfill the Mitzvos.

MOSHE’S INFLUENCE ALIVE AND WELL

His influence did not materialize immediately upon crossing into the Land. Its development was a long and arduous process. A taste of perfection was evident in the Beis HaMikdash but it will only become a permanent reality in the Messianic Age. Moshiach, who will guide us into that Age, is imbued with the soul of Moshe. Moshe/Moshiach will finally achieve his life’s dream to have all the Mitzvos we do be complete and the union between us and G-d through the Mitzvos be completed.

We can now decipher the cryptic Midrash that stated, “I wrote that you are a wise person, as it says, ‘a wise person takes Mitzvos’ so how can you desire to enter into the land?”

G-d’s argument with Moshe was that he, in fact, had already achieved the goal of taking Mitzvos rather than just doing them. That occurred, as noted above, when Moshe took Yoseph’s remains with him and did not part with them, even as the Jews were despoiling the Egyptian soldiers.

If the goal was to have the People take Mitzvos, Moshe had already initiated the process and it would continue to percolate within the soul of those whom he led and nurtured. Anything Moshe laid his hands on, the Talmud states, was never destroyed. This can be extended to his taking of the Mitzvos; the potential for it is still here today and is the force that will pave the way for the ultimate Redemption when we will fulfill all the Mitzvos by taking.

Our way of preparing for the Redemption is to use our own sparks of Moshe and Moshiach, and use their wisdom to appreciate the total value and power of each Mitzvah we do.

 

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