When you put on these glasses, mitzvos aren’t a list of obligations. They’re the most joyful way to acknowledge all the good.
Ah, the sounds of Elul. No sooner have we washed the last forgotten beach towel and packed up the trendy knapsacks with shiny new 5-Star notebooks and bubble gum erasers, and suddenly we’re thrust into Yom Tov preparations.
Spiced honey apple cider-braised brisket? Check. Za’atar salmon with pomegranate gremolata? Check. Sheitel washed and set? New honey dish toveled? Color coordinated fall kiddie clothing with headbands and socks to match? Check, check, check.
Ummm. We’re not in seminary any more, y’know. Who has time to make an elaborate cheshbon hanefesh? These days I’m lucky if I remember where I stashed the Betty Crocker that still doesn’t have a home in my overstocked kitchen. And besides – what happened to my past years’ resolutions to scroll less, smile more, and call Great-Aunt Shaindy weekly? Gone and forgotten by Simchas Torah, most likely.
If only there were a better way. If only there were a way to break free of a view of our mitzvos as a string of obligations, with rewards and punishments to match. A way to put on a different pair of glasses, so to speak – and transform ourselves by triggering a paradigm shift in the way we view our entire avodah and our relationship with our Creator.
Fortunately, there is. In my work as a marriage coach and educator, much of my approach is anchored in the Mashpia/Mekabel dynamic – the foundational interaction between provider/potential/’zachar’ energy and receiver/actualization/’nekaiva’ energy. In this construct, the Mashpia provides initiative, potential, the spark of inspiration… while the Mekabel receives that raw material and builds with it, so that together they produce the final product.
While this is true in marriage, it is clearly reflected throughout the physical universe, as these two complementary forces constantly interact to create a spiral of growth and connection. Thus, in our relationship with the Ribbono Shel Olam, Hashem is the ultimate Mashpia: providing the raw materials – our physical reality, our possessions, our life circumstances, historical events – which set the stage for us to actualize Hashem’s Presence and his Plan in the world, collectively and individually.
When you view yourself as a Mekabel… everything changes. In Iyov 41:3, Hashem says: Mi hikdimani va’ashalem: “Who preceded Me that I should reward him?” Chazal elaborate, explaining the attitude we should have when viewing the mitzvos that Hashem asks of us:
“Who praised Me before I gave him a soul with which to praise? Who put a guard rail before I gave him a roof? Who wrote a mezuzah before I gave him a home? Who made me tzizits before I gave him a garment? Who set aside the corner of his field before I gave him a field? Who set aside challah before I gave him dough?” Seen from this perspective, our entire avodah shifts. Rather than seeing a list of obligations, I see opportunities to utilize that which Hashem has given me, to acknowledge His gifts and advance His plan for me and for the world.
R’ Noach Weinberg zt”l notes that the mitzva of loving Hashem (yes, it is a mitzva, just like Shabbos and kashrus!) has several levels. The first is to love Hashem with ‘me’odecha’ – your resources. You probably learned in school that this means that you should be willing to give up all your possessions rather than do an aveira. But the Chovos Halevavos takes us to a more foundational level:
The most basic path to Ahavas Hashem is recognizing all of the pleasures that He gives us: taking pleasure in the material gifts that we enjoy, and then recognizing Hashem as the source. When we internalize this concept, it comes naturally to use those resources to fulfill Hashem’s will.
R’ Weinberg brings an example of an uncle who bought you a car. Wouldn’t you be happy to lend it to him if he needed it when his car broke down?
The key here is not to recall this technique at the time that you are challenged to give tzedakah or share your time or resources. The goal is to constantly maintain an awareness of your appreciation of what you have and the pleasure you derive from it – and to then reflect on how each and every benefit that you receive is a gift to you, from your loving Father.
Who knew that you could grow in your avodah and your relationship with Hashem, just by noticing and appreciating the pleasure you get from
- That first sip of caramel macchiato
- The toothless grin of your pudgy 6 month old
- The comforting swishing sound of your dishwasher cleaning your Shabbos dishes
- Your favorite playlist entertaining you on your way to carpool
- The blast of cool air as you enter your house from the sticky summer humidity
Imagine what a difference it would make, if you ingrained this concept not only in yourself, but in your children. Imagine how it would not only make you happier every day, but deepen your relationship with the One who provided all those pleasures to you. Imagine the difference in your attitude towards mitzvos and challenges, when we view them as opportunities to ‘give back’ in some small way, to the One who gave us – quite literally – all that we have (and even who we are).
R’ Weinberg famously noted that in order to appreciate fine wine, one needs to undergo months of training. That’s what it takes to become a wine connoisseur. So, too, say R’ Weinberg, we can learn to become connoisseurs of pleasure: noticing, appreciating, and acknowledging the gifts – and the Giver.