These days we seem to live in a results-oriented society where people expect practical action to yield tangible, predictable and often immediate rewards. Conversely, popular perception posits that indulgence in frivolous, irrational behavior will produce nothing of worth. Against this backdrop, as committed Jews, our steadfast performance and observance of G-d’s holy mitzvosoften earns us the derision of non-Jewish society at large and, sadly, the scorn of unaffiliated or uncommitted Jewish brethren who have not yet been privileged to experience the beauty of a life filled with Torah and mitzvos. They fail to understand two fundamental aspectsof the nature of heeding G-d’s directives:
1. The primary reward for mitzvah performance is not found in this temporal, finite world, but rather, in the eternal World to Come.
2. Mitzvos are Hashem’s instructions for life and will, in fact, provide tangible benefit in this world.
Our Rabbis taught that the way to reap the reward for mitzvah observance here and now is to enhance its performance both quantitatively and qualitatively. A quantitative increase is achieved quite simply by spending time focusing on the mitzvah before, during and after its performance. A qualitative increase is determined by the level of joy, passion and sacrifice one brings to the mitzvah performance.
For example, Torah study is, perhaps, the most elemental of all of G-d’s mitzvos. After all, every Jew must learn Hashem’s word to know what is expected of him. Moreover, immersing oneself in Torah’s sublime lessons builds our character and ennobles us, allowing us to achieve the highest levels of human perfection attainable. But, how do we approach Torah study? Do we view it as an onerous chore to be dispensed with as quickly as possible?
The quantitative approach we spoke of demands that we study as much as possible. But even when we are not engaged in formal study, as we go about our work day, if we think about and eagerly anticipate the daily time we have designated for study, then every moment of our day is occupied with Torah. This elevates even our most mundane experiences and infuses them with the spirit of the Divine.
Furthermore, when we engage in Torah study, we must do so with full appreciation of how fortunate we are to have the gift of Torah. This will raise our level of our study, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
So too, the opportunity to perform a mitzvah is reason for great joy. When we reflect upon the beauty of the mitzvah in advance of its performance,we build up our sense of wonder and excitement and will, thus, perform the mitzvahwith great joy and intensity, the qualitative increase mentioned earlier.
As we celebrate Pesach, we note that these approaches to mitzvah performance were instilled in us at the very outset of our national formation. Our redemption from degrading enslavement in Egypt to the uplifting service of G-d was marked by the gift of a mitzvah that would initiate us into the ranks of Hashem’s chosen people and served to distinguish us from our depraved Egyptian captors.
The Jews were told to take a sheep and tie it to their bedposts for four days in preparation of slaughtering it and eating it in fulfillment of the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. Thus, the last thing they saw before going to sleep at night, and the first thing they saw upon awakening in the morning, was the object of the first mitzvah they would soon perform. This served to heighten their excitement and anticipation for the mitzvah. It also increased the “quantity” of the mitzvah by drawing out its observance over time. Finally, when the Jews actually performed the great mitzvah, they did so with great zeal and emotion, qualitative elements that elevated its value.
Additionally, Hashem had commanded, “So shall you eat it, with your belts girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hands.” Typically a walking stick is the last thing somebody takes in hand before embarking on a journey. Why did G-d command all of this? The Al-mighty wanted the Jews to eat the sacrifice without having to worry about any other preparations for their exodus from Egypt. Thus, they could focus solely on the mitzvah of eating this holy sacrifice without distraction. Further, this would provide time, from midnight until dawn, for Jews to assemble and sing and dance with inspired souls and great joy through the stories of the miracles and the performance of the mitzvah.
And finally, G-d commanded Moses, Our Teacher, to instruct the Jews to approach the Egyptians and borrow from them gold and silver vessels before their departure from Egypt. This was necessary in order to fulfill His promise to our forefather Abraham that after hundreds of years of slavery and torture his descendants would leave the land of their oppressors with great wealth. The Jewish people certainly feared entering the houses of the Egyptians, but did so with great dedication to fulfill G-d’s mitzvah. And when a Jew would timidly ask for one gold or silver vessel, the Egyptian would reply, “Take two.” The Talmud thus records, “Every Jew left Egypt with 90 donkeys laden with much treasure.” And so, in the end the Jews saw and understood that Torah and mitzvos protect and save them and provide life and wealth.
It is for this reason that we are commanded on Seder night to view ourselves as if we had personally been at the Exodus from Egypt, so that we might come to the fullest and most profound appreciation for the spiritual and material benefits inherent in keeping G-d’s commandments. We recite the verse, “It is because of this (i.e., the mitzvos) that Hashem acted for me when I left Egypt.” Interestingly, in Hebrew this is translated as Zeh, which is spelled with the letters zayin and hey. These letters form the first letters of the words Zerizus and Hachana, meaning zeal and preparation. When we prepare properly to do a mitzvah and then perform it with great zeal (quantity and quality) we merit reward for the mitzvah both tangibly in this world and eternally in the World to Come.
Thus, the holiday of Pesach, which celebrates the establishment of our Jewish national identity, teaches us the true power of Torah and mitzvos and instructs us to always remember the day of our exodus from Egypt. For it was on that very day that we came to recognize that all blessing depends on commitment to G-d and his mitzvos alone.
With best wishes to you and your families for a meaningful and spiritually uplifting Pesach, may Hashem shower upon you all of the blessings He promised to those who faithfully perform His mitzvos.
Translated by Rabbi Avrami Farber and Yehudah Leib Meth