Of Bread and Milk
In the first Pasuk of this week's Parsha Moshe focused on the performance
of those Mitzvos that are usually "taken for granted and performed by-
rote." Why the emphasis on Mitzvos that are taken for granted more so
than Mitzvos in general?
Moshe informed the Jews that the potential reward for "not doing Mitzvos
by-rote" is G d's love, blessing, prosperity, and overall bounty. It would
seem that such a reward should be earned for doing all the Mitzvos. Why
did Moshe associate G-d’s bountiful benevolence as the reward for "not
doing Mitzvos by rote?"
In Moshe’s concise but all encompassing description of the plenty waiting
to be had he included “no infertility.” (10:14) What is there about "not
doing Mitzvos by rote" that merits the fertility of the nation and its
Later in the Parsha, Moshe asked the $64,000 question. (10:12) "What does
G-d ask of you?" Moshe answered, “G-d asks you for everything including
the kitchen sink!” (10:12-13) “Fear Him, follow his ways, love Him, serve
Him with all your heart and soul, and keep all His laws and statutes!” To
quote the Talmud in Berachos 33b, “Is Moshe’s answer a simple thing to
attain?” Moshe defined the integration of our awareness and commitment to
G-d into every aspect of existence! Is that all G-d wants from us?! To
underscore the extreme nature of G-d’s expectations, the Talmud in
Berachos explained that what Moshe defined in this week’s Parsha in
seemingly easy terms is only so because Moshe had already attained that
level of commitment. “For Moshe it was a simple thing!” For the rest of us
shleppers it was far more difficult!
I would like to suggest that Moshe’s emphasis on "not doing Mitzvos by-
rote" and the impressive rewards awaiting the nation if they should avoid
doing Mitzvos by-rote is the same as Moshe’s answer to the $64,000
Let’s rephrase Moshe’s question and his answer. “What does Hashem really
want from His Chosen people and by extension the rest of humanity? The
answer is, “Hashem wants to have a real relationship with his children.
Hashem does not want that His children will be indifferent and casual
about their relationship with Him. G-d desires that the Bnai Yisroel model
for the other nations a relationship that integrates awareness of G-d,
appreciation for G-d, and a closeness with G-d that transcends the
expectation of getting back anything in return. Regardless of reward and
gain reason or rational His Chosen People will serve Him because they
desire closeness with G-d above all else. The measure of their success
will be in direct proportion to how close or distant they are from G-d.
How do we measure closeness and distance in a relationship?
A few years ago in a Yom Kippur Drasha I offered the following example of
a relationship founded on the principal of "not doing Mitzvos by rote". I
stipulated that all of us would do everything possible to save the life of
anyone including a total stranger. However, for whom would we do the small
things that appear to be far less important? In other words, which is a
greater indication of closeness and love? saving your spouses life or
going store at 11:45 pm to buy bread and milk for tomorrow’s lunch because
your spouse forgot to do so? Undoubtedly, the later is a greater
expression of love and concern than the first. That does not mean that the
gravity of concern isn’t greater in saving a life than buying bagels!
However, how many of us would leave the cradle of our beds and pillows to
accommodate the forgetfulness of a stranger?
The doing of Mitzvos and our attitude while we do them are the only
tangible expressions of our relationship with G-d. Hashem provides us with
the bounty of life in a manner that defies our ability to imitate or
comprehend. In return we are supposed to listen to His Mitzvos and follow
in His ways. However, in so far as relationships are concerned, there is a
significant difference between the perfunctory performance of G-d’s
commandments and doing them with intent and concern.
In the performance of Mitzvos there is the concept of Hiddur Mitzvah ? the
beautification and glorification of Mitzvos. It’s like eating a meal on
paper plates with plastic cutlery vs. the same food being presented and
enjoyed on fine china with silverware and crystal. The first is perfectly
functional and delivers nutrition and sustenance to the human organism;
however, the second elevates our basic needs into the realm of esthetic
appreciation and enjoyment. Somehow the china and silver conveys a sense
of being special. Hiddur Mitzvah is intended to reflect on how we feel
about our relationship with Hashem. The closer we are, the more we care,
the more important doing G-d’s Mitzvos become, the greater our emphasis on
form and presentation should be. (shades of Kayin and Hevel)
In many families, china, silver, and crystal are rightfully reserved for
special occasions such as Shabbos Yom Tov and the greeting of special
guests. The rest of the week, functionality and convenience motivate our
social and familial protocols. The question is, should that be the way we
relate to G-d? Should the nuance and esthetics of our relationship with
Hashem be reserved for special occasions or should they be constants in
the expressions of our love and caring? In thinking about the answer do
not dwell on effort, time, and expense ? they are circumstantial to our
attitude of caring and concern. Instead, think of what should be if you
did not have to take effort, time, and expense into consideration.
Undoubtedly, the greater our closeness to G-d and our love for Him the
greater would be our emphasis on intent and detail.
Fundamental to the give and take of our relationship with G-d is the rule
of “measure for a measure.” As we have discussed many times, this judicial
principal empowers us to decide the manner of our reward and punishment.
If we show indifference to G-d, G-d will be indifferent to us. If we show
concern for G-d, G-d will show concern for us. It is identical to the
principal of “G-d is near to all those who call out to Him.” G-d cares for
every one of His creations; yet, He is nearer to those of His creations
who maintain a more involved and constant relationship with Him.
Mitzvos by-rote are performances that do not address the quality of our
relationship with G-d. They accomplish the basic requirements for service
and functionality as G-d’s servants; however, they do not attend to the
intent and nuance of a relationship with G-d that should be ultimately
important and significant. On the other hand, when Mitzvos that are often
done by-rote are instead done with concern and intent, they become an even
greater expression of closeness to G-d than the occasional Yomim Tovim and
their special Mitzvos. The measure of a person’s religious commitment is
more evidenced in the making of Berachos (blessings), daily Tefilah
(prayer) and Minyan (prayer quarom), set times for Torah study, and
maintaining routine practices of Kashrus and Family Purity than fasting on
Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur may be tantamount to saving a persons life while
all the other Mitzvos are the 11:45 pm run to the supermarket for some
milk and bread.
Hashem’s greatest investment in this world is the human race. The rest of
the universe is the stage setting for humanity to emulate His ways and
develop their relationship with Him. After creating Adam and Chava, Hashem
blessed them and said, (Ber.1:28) “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the ea G-
d’s ongoing investment in the universe is predicated on each generation
giving rise to the next. However, raising a generation to be indifferent
to G-d and His wishes is to turn G-d’s blessing into a curse. The most
effective way for parents to raise an indifferent child is for them to be
indifferent. The most effective way for a parent to raise a concerned and
involved child is for them to be concerned and involved. G-d promises that
if we ourselves will not do Mitzvos by-rote, but instead do them with
concern and intent, we will merit to be fruitful and multiply.
Hashem wants us to be close to Him. He wants us to care about His
commandments and to raise our children to be close and caring Jews as
well. Whether the child is our own genetic issue or the product of our
love and concern for their physical and spiritual well-being, the measure
of our success and blessing will be in the small things that reflect
closeness with G-d.
After all is said and done what G-d really wants to know is, will you make
the 11:45 pm bread and milk run?
Lovingly dedicated to the bathrobe gang!
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.