Posted on June 8, 2023 (5783) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

When you kindle the lamps, the seven lamps should cast their light towards the face of the Menorah[2]

The reward for the performance of a mitzvah is the mitzvah,[3] they say. This sounds like a conundrum. After a moment’s thought, however, it is anything but. It’s meaning is perfectly apparent! Mitzvos are mechanisms that enable us to attach ourselves to Hashem. When you perform a mitzvah, you attach yourself more closely to Him. What could be a greater reward than that?

But, on a deeper level, it most certainly is a conundrum. Look at the four letters of the word “mitzvah” – mem, tzadi, vav, heh – and what do you see? What you should see is the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter form of Hashem’s Name.

Half of that is easy. Both words end with vav, heh. The first two letters, though, don’t seem related at all. In mitzvah, those letters are mem, tzadi. In the Name, they are yud, heh. But those are actually the same. In the special alphabet we call atba”sh,[4] which often reveals hidden relationships, yud becomes mem, and heh becomes tzadi!

Put more simply, the first letters of “mitzvah” connect to the Name in a hidden manner, while the last letters connect openly. What does this mean?

We recognize an important dichotomy about our human grasp of Hashem. He is open and revealed to us in His actions – in the wondrous and miraculous ways that He relates to us at all times. But His Essence is completely hidden from us.

But it is more complicated than that. Within the open, there is much hidden. At the core of everything that is revealed is the Essence of Hashem that vivifies it. Think of it as similar to the way we relate to other people. When we face another person, are we really conversing with the physical body that stands before us? Or are we trying to reach the unseen inner person, his consciousness and soul? Similarly, all the words of Torah – Written Torah, Oral Torah, and all the mitzvos – are the “body” of Torah. When we engage them, we should not be speaking to the body alone, but to its hidden soul, the secrets within that that are aspects of Hashem’s Essence, and that give life to the body. We must join the body and soul of Torah as we learn it. “The hidden things are for Hashem our G-d. The revealed things are for us and our children forever, la’asos all the words of this Torah.”[5] In our avodah of the revealed Torah, we are bidden “do” the words, by uniting their neshamah with their guf.

We are instructed to similarly perform the active mitzvos, addressing both the manifest activity, the guf, with its vital core of Divinity, the neshamah. Going through the motions of the mitzvah without genuine kavanah means leaving the neshamah out of the guf. When people recite the leshem yichud formula before performing a mitzvah, they reference uniting HKBH with His Shechinah. This, too, refers to uniting the outer form of the mitzvah with the presence of Hashem within it. That yichud helps to unite all the worlds.

We return to our pasuk with an understanding of its allusions. Beha’aloscha/when you try to raise yourselves up through the illumination of the neiros, which are the mitzvos, they should all be bent to the face of the Menorah. The seven lamps encompass the different divisions of Torah; the “face” means the penimiyus, the core bit of Divinity that vitalizes each mitzvah.

This is the fuller kavanah that we should bring to the mitzvos we perform.

  1. Based on Meor Einayim by Rav Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl
  2. Bamidbar 8:2
  3. Avos 4:2
  4. In this transformation of the alphabet, each letter is replaced by a kind of mirror image of itself. The first letter (aleph) becomes the last (tav); the second letter (bet) becomes the second-from-last (shin). Etc. This alternative alphabet has great significance in kabbalistic thought, unlocking relationships that are not apparent of the superficial level.
  5. Devarim 29:28