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Mountain of Mitzvot? Not!


Our tradition tells us that the sole purpose of Torah is for us to refine our character, and the way toward that end is through action, namely, by doing mitzvot (commandments).

Sounds clear enough, however when you consider that there are 613 commandments, it might seem overwhelming---like dealing with a "mountain of mitzvot"...but let's delve further.


By exploring the Hebrew origins of the word, we will gain insight into its deeper meaning. The Hebrew, מצוה (mitzvah), is derived from a two- letter root "tzav" - צו which is also the root word for צות which means team or staff.


Wow--- so the commandments are to be a team effort, a partnership. But it's a partnership not only horizontally, between us and other people (bein adam l'chaveiro), but a team effort vertically, between us and the One (bein adam l'Makom).


As a team, we are to bring to the world a sense of justice, kindness, compassion, and love. No one can do this alone. In fact, it is totally not possible to be responsible for doing all the mitzvot.


Traditionally, there are 613 mitzvot (Rambam - Maimonides, enumerated them), however some can be enacted only by Kohanim (descendants of the Temple's priestly class), while some are only possible while in Israel. Then, there are some that are commanded to you if you are a first born, a male, etc. etc.


Going back to our first point, we are all supposed to be doing this as a team effort.

So, if your area of expertise is in fundraising, and yours is in writing...you are to use those unique talents and skills in accomplishing mitzvot that are part of your purpose here. So, the original intimidating list of 613 is not too threatening when viewed in this light. In addition, we share this responsibility!


Just as one finger is part of a hand, so are you also, part of an entity. It's why we are called Am Yisrael (עם ישראל) the people of Israel, an entire nation. We are all responsible for each other's purposeful living. In the Torah, we are not addressed as individuals, but as a community. The directive for us to be holy is said in the plural (K'doshim ti'hiyu).


Yet, we often neglect to ask each other for help in that respect. When studying Biblical text about offerings that were brought to the portable mishkan, sanctuary, it struck me that the entire community was responsible to make sure that the offering met certain purity standards. That was so illuminating for me, especially when in these times, we tend to 'go things alone', mind our own business, and not get too involved in other's affairs.


The ancient idea that you would care about my holiness is an awesome concept. Not only should I think about what mitzvot I might bring in the world, but it is my responsibility to help you do so as well.


Moreover, we forget that HaShem created this partnership. We can remind ourselves that we are not in this alone, we can ask God for help. It makes sense to go to the Source for guidance! We often use the medium of prayer to ask God for health, peace, healing....but at any time, any place, we can ask God for help in order to fulfill the goal of bringing Torah into the world through mitzvot of kindness and compassion.