I heard the following vort from Rav Ari Cutler: ‘If’ you will build an altar of stones… (Shemot 20:22) ‘If’ you will lend money to the poor… (Shemot 22: 24) ‘If’ you will bring the korban bikkurim…(Vayikra 2:14) Rav Yishmael states that in these three verses in the Torah, the word ‘im’, which normally means ‘if’, actually means ‘when’. Thus, we have an actual commandment to lend money to those who are needy. The Maharal of Prague (16th Century) asks an obvious question: If the word means ‘when’ and not ‘if’, why didn’t the Torah use the common word for ‘when’ – ‘kaasher’- and avoid confusion?
The Maharal offers a brilliant answer: If I observe the mitzvot only because I was commanded by God, in other words, in the manner of “kaasher”, I have without a doubt fulfilled my obligation. The Maharal claims, however, that there is a second, higher level of mitzvah observance. The ‘kaasher’ approach is the foundation – we do the mitzvot because God commanded us. Beyond that, we can strive to construct the ‘2nd floor’ of “im”, performing mitzvot autonomously, because we want to, because our will has converged with God’s Will. The Maharal claims that these three mitzvot are unique in that the ‘2nd floor’ is crucial to proper fulfillment of the mitzvah. If I lend my poor friend money reluctantly, because God gave me no choice, instead of willingly and lovingly, then I have not fully performed that mitzvah, which is designed to be an act of fraternal love. Our Sages say that in the time of Mordechai and Esther, the Jewish people reaccepted the Torah freely – ‘Kiyemu ve-kiblu Ha-Yehudim’ (Esther 9:27; Shabbat 88a). When we received the Torah, we were overwhelmed by God’s commanding Presence. The experience was marked by an awesome solemnity. When we renewed our commitment during the time of Purim, when God’s Presence was concealed, it was a joyous act of freedom, which we happily recreate every year when Adar begins.