Optimal Mitzvah Performance by Shmuel Bak


In this week's Parashah, Parashat Ki Tavo, the Pasuk relates, “Et Hashem He’emarta HaYom, Lihyot Lecha LEilokim VeLalechet BiDrachav VeLishmor Chukav UMitzvotav UMishpatav VeLishmo’a BeKolo,” “You have distinguished Hashem today to be a God for you, and to walk in his ways, and to observe His decrees, His commandments, and His statutes, and to listen to His voice” (Devarim 26:17). Why does the Torah need to list all of these ways in which one could properly serve Hashem? Certainly a few, maybe even just one, of the characteristics would be found in someone who is a full believer and follower of Hashem?

The reason is that Mitzvot must be done in an exciting way that would also please Hashem. Mitzvot should not be done in a manner in which one feels forced to do them, for that would be like someone paying a debt while being under pressure, not with love and joy, as Hashem wants. Chazal explain this in the Gemara (Berachot 28b), which states regarding one who prays habitually and without joy, that his Tefillah is not complete. As mentioned above, the difference between doing Mitzvot with joy and doing them mundanely is compared to the difference between giving money that is owed to a lender and giving a gift to someone who did one a favor. Someone who gives money back to the lender lacks joy and always feels pressured to pay back the lender. However, when someone gives a gift, he gives it because he feels gratitude toward someone and feels happy to repay the person that did an act of kindness for him. In the case of the gift, the receiver is also happy because he feels that his hard work has been recognized.

Hashem, by putting several different phrases for how to serve Him in this Pasuk, tries to show Bnei Yisrael that worshipping Him should not come from a feeling of obligation, but rather from a feeling of recognition of the special acts and favors that He does for Bnei Yisrael on a daily basis. Worshipping Hashem, doing Mitzvot, and listening to His decrees should feel more like a gift to Hashem than a burden. With this attitude in mind, one feels happy to do every act of kindness, for doing so is essentially repaying Hashem.

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains why each term was specifically used in our Pasuk. First, the term “Lishmo’a BeKolo,” “listen to His voice,” is specifically used because the term means to act out of love so that He will find your actions pleasing. Second, the phrase “Lihyot Lecha LEilokim,” “to be a God for you,” refers to being faithful. Third, the phrase “Lalechet BiDrachav,” “to walk in His ways,” means to endeavor and to emulate His traits. Fourth, the expression “Lihmor Chukav UMitzvotav UMishpatav,” “to observe His decrees, His commandments, and His statutes,” means that Bnei Yisrael should perform meritorious acts just as they were commanded. These four expressions correspond to four phrases in the following Pasuk: “Ki Am Kadosh Atah LaShem Elokecha Becha Bachar Hashem Elokecha Lihyot Lo LeAm Segulah MiKol HaAmim Asher Al Penei HaAdamah,” “For you are a holy people to Hashem your God, Hashem your God has chosen you to be a special people to Himself, above all peoples that are upon the face of earth” (Devarim 7:6). We see from these two Pesukim that it is imperative to perform Mitzvot with the proper intentions and for the proper purposes.

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