Rashi opens his commentary on this week’s portion by explaining the rather strange choice of the words that begin this week’s parsha.
“Vehaya eikev tishmi’un” — “And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them…” Moshe is continuing his final sermon to the Jewish people with the promise that if they follow God’s directives as are spelled out in the Torah, the people will be blessed with the “kindness that He swore to your forefathers”
“Eikev,” the word translated here as “because,” is not a word typically used in the Torah, and for this Rashi addresses it. The words actually has a dual meaning. It also, and more typically, means “heel.” Rashi notes that if the people heed “even the lesser commandments which a person sometimes treads on with his heels,” they will be blessed.
Rashi says the verse is teaching us the importance of each and every singular mitzvah. The verse is reminding us how we should not “step over” a mitzvah we find less attractive, reasonable, or understandable for those that are “rational”.
A mitzvah is most commonly translated as a good deed. While it certainly is, the actual definition is “commandment.” A third, lesser-known definition is brought down in Lekutiei Torah of the Alter Rebbe, the first Chabad rebbe. Mitzvah comes from the word “tzavta”, which means connection. This definition teaches us an important lesson on how we can approach mitzvah observance.
Each mitzvah we do is more than simply following God’s command: It is actually connecting us with Him. Think of a rope with 613 strands, each a mitzvah that strengthens that connection.
Imagine if the president, or a king, asked you to bring him a glass of water. The task itself is monotonous. But the fact that you would be fulfilling this task would create a deep and strong connection to him.
Such is our connection to God with each mitzvah. The mitzvah is a chance and an opportunity. It is an invitation to get closer with our creator in a very unique way. Bearing in mind this outlook, recognizing the enormous potential in each mitzvah, will enable us to fulfill each and every mitzvah with passion and enthusiasm.
It is a refreshing outlook on mitzvah observance that can make it more fulfilling and less burdensome.
Back when I was in yeshiva, I spent three years studying in the Chabad yeshiva in the Parisian suburb of Brunoy. The school was founded by Holocaust survivors in a palace provided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The yeshiva still exits today with more than 300 students from France and abroad.
Each Friday we would spend the afternoon visiting Jews in Paris. The section I used to visit was the Sentier district in central Paris. Despite the often troubled news we hear in the U.S. about the status of Jews in France, I found them to be passionate and excited to observe mitzvahs and learn more. Whether it was placing a mezuzah on the door, putting on teffilin, or committing to Shabbat candle lighting, their enthusiasm for each mitzvah was exemplary.
It was clear to me that the Jews I met there felt the fact that each mitzvah is a connection. A connection to ourselves. A connection to community. A connection to God.
Let’s do our best to observe each mitzvah with love and interest, and we should be blessed with all the wonderful blessings delineated in the week’s parsha. Amen!