In the first of this week’s two parshiot, the pasuk states:- “You shall observe my statutes and my laws so that a person may do them and live by them” (18:5). Nachmanidies comments on this that this refers specifically to those Mitzvot which are bein adom l’chaveiro, between man and man which establish the moral fabric of society since they allow the community to ‘live’ properly in peace and harmony. According to the Talmud (Yoma 85b), the Torah values human life above the keeping of the Mitzvot so that, for example, in a case of piku’ach nefesh (endangered life), one may break Shabbat to save someone’s life. Having said that, however, there are three “biggies” for which death is preferable, these being idol worship, murder and immorality.
The great Rabbi of Kotzk suggested an entirely different interpretation of the verse: “You shall observe my statutes and my laws so that a person may do them and bring life into them.” Rather than the Mitzvot being principles learned parrot fashion and followed blindly, they should be living facts in every Jew’s life. He writes that “they must appeal to head and heart, to reason and emotion”. We are told “Rachmana liba ba’ah” “G-d seeks the heart”.
We are not wanted to simply carry out His commandments with no enthusiasm. Observance of the Mitzvot must literally be lively. Rabbi Dr Abraham J. Twerski explains the Kotzker’s interpretation by comparing Mitzvot to food. Food nourishes the body while Mitzvot sustain the soul. Whilst it is possible to survive on tasteless food which provides adequate vitamins and minerals, we prefer to enhance our food with creative recipes, and presentations which whet our appetites. Since Mitzvot provide nourishment for our soul they should be infused with the same enthusiasm and creativity as we devote to making our food more appealing. When we are about to perform a mitzvah we should pause to consider how to make it more interesting and delightful. If we can succeed in taking the Mitzvot that we have to do and bring life into them, then our Judaism and our life in general will be a much more pleasant experience.