Be a blessing to yourself: the inner value of performing mitzvot | Re’e

God tell us in chapter seven verse six in Deuteronomy that we are an “AM Kadosh” and an “AM Segula” which means a holy people and a treasure to God. When I meditate on these two words Kadosh and Segula, I think more about the question of what does God want me to be like? How shall I feel about myself when I participate in the world of being holy and performing mitzvoth? I fully understand that all the great Sages in our tradition’s sacred texts remind us that doing commandments is the focus. Parashah R’eih tells us all kinds of things to do from the dietary laws, to observances of the Pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. God tell us how to treat people from the Levites to the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Being a holy people is also about God telling us about prohibitions too. Don’t pay attention, for example, to the false prophets and the dream diviners that will lead us to practicing idolatry.

There is a well known text from the Talmud in the Babylonian Talmud tractate Sotah 14a which describes that our purpose is to imitate God in all our actions. Rabbi Hama son of Rabbi Haninah quotes from Deuteronomy 13:5, “Follow none but the Eternal you God… and hold fast to the Eternal.”  At the same time Rabbi Hama asks if that is true then how does one reconcile that idea with a verse that says, “the Eternal is a consuming fire?” (Deuteronomy 4:24).

The answer that Rabbi Hama gives is that “following the Eternal and holding fast to God,” means that we must imitate God’s qualities.” God clothes the naked (Adam and Eve) and we must do the same. God visits the sick (God visits Abraham when he is recovering from his circumcision) and so must we visit the sick. God comforts the mourners (by telling Isaac after his father Abraham died to comfort mourners), so too should we provide support to the bereaved. God buries the dead (God buried Moses in the land of Moab), and thus we too are commanded to bury the deceased.

In conclusion Rabbi Hama says, “The Torah begins with an act of kindness and it concludes with an act of kindness.” In Genesis God clothed Adam and Eve and at the end of the Torah God buried Moses.

But there is a feeling inside me that is looking for something more out of doing mitzvoth in addition to the performance of the act itself. I am referring to the question; How should I feel about what I am doing? In other words as I perform these sacred acts is there an inner feeling that I am supposed to experience from what I do? Clearly these mitzvoth that God performs serve as model for us. Is there, on the other hand, an internal awareness that connects to the soul of who we are? Does that feeling or that spiritual impulse inside touch something precious and often times hidden inside ourselves?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch from Germany wrote in 1836 a series of 19 letters to a Jewish student who was not sure of what his Jewish identity meant. His letters are just as relevant today as they were over 180 years ago.

In Letter 12 he tried to explain the inner kavanah or emotion of performing mitzvoth by saying, “First be a blessing to yourself so that you can be a blessing to all others. Equip yourself with the capacities to be of good service to the welfare of your neighbors. To become the means of blessing learn first to honor your parents as messengers of God, humanity and Israel to you. Revere wisdom, age and virtue, as role models wherever and whenever they appear realized in human character. Illuminate yourself with the revealed wisdom of the Torah, avoid the evil and seek the good.”

Since God told Abraham “be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2) then is it our mission to feel the inner calling that we become a blessing to ourselves when we perform mitzvoth? To be a blessing to ourselves is a different kind of challenge than performing public acts of mitzvoth. We start within ourselves but don’t end there, rather, the purpose performing sacred acts starts within us but ends with our interaction with the community which we impact with our performance of mitzvoth.

Is being holy also about feeling that sense of being a blessing and the instrument of God’s blessing? To be a blessing to ourselves is what enables us to find the enlightenment which compels us to follow the Eternal One. The inner and outer worlds we all inhabit live together with each other. The question is are we able to balance them in our daily lives so that we feel the inner satisfaction of being a blessing to ourselves while at the same time having faith that what God asks us to do is as much for us as it is for God’s namesake.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ).