Proper Intent by Rabbi Joel Grossman


This week’s Parsha discusses the topic of Maaser Sheni, which is brought in the third and sixth years of the Shemittah cycle.  The Torah (26:13) teaches us that when bringing Maaser Sheni the farmer must recite the phrase לא עברתי ממצוותיך ולא שכחתי, “I have not violated any of Your commandments and I have not forgotten.”  In his Sefer Something to Say, Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser asks about the apparent redundancy.  If one did not violate anything, he obviously has not forgotten anything.  Rav Goldwasser quotes the Sfat Emet, who answers that sometimes we may perform a Mitzva only out of habit, forgetting the reason behind it.  While we may fulfill the commandment, we lack the proper intent.  Therefore, when removing the Maaser, the farmer declares, “I have not violated and I have not forgotten,” meaning not only has he fulfilled the Mitzva, but he has also not forgotten its true meaning.

This point is also demonstrated by Rav Moshe Feinstein on the Pasuk ללכת בדרכיו ולשמר חוקיו ומצוותיו ומשפטיו ולשמע בקולו, “to walk in His ways and to observe His decrees, His commandments, and His statutes and to listen to His voice” (26:17).  Rav Moshe asked, “Why does the Pasuk say ‘and to listen to His voice’ after already having said, ‘to walk in His ways and to observe His decrees, His commandments, and His statutes?’  It is obvious that someone who observes all of these laws has already listened to Hashem’s voice!”  Rav Moshe answers that we must do the Mitzvot in a manner that will be pleasing and acceptable to Hashem.  We cannot do them as one would pay a debt; rather, we must do them with love, joy, and graciousness.

As we continue in the month of Elul and approach the יום הדין of Rosh Hashana, we must work on the concept of עבדו את ה' בשמחה, serving Hashem with joy, and do each commandment with a feeling of love and closeness to Hashem.  We must stop doing Mitzvot by rote; rather, we should study their true meanings and be cognizant of those meanings when we do the Mitzvot.  The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 90) rules that מצוות צריכות כוונה, we must have proper intent in order to fulfill a Mitzva.

There is a famous story about a Baal Tokea (someone who blows the Shofar) who learned all the כוונות to have in mind before each blast of the Shofar.  He studied them and took notes, and he was so happy and proud that this year everyone in his Shul would fulfill the Mitzva on the highest level.  On the morning of Rosh Hashana, a gust of wind blew his treasured notes out of his hand.  He tried to retrieve them, but they were lost.  When he came to Shul, he told the Rabbi he cold not blow without his notes.  The Rabbi told him to blow anyway, so he did, and it was the best job he had ever done.  The Rabbi came over to him and said that the proper כוונה for blowing Shofar is a broken heart, and this year, because the Baal Tokea was so upset, he did the best job he could ever have done.  If each of us can do every Mitzva with its proper כוונה, then we, too, can do every Mitzva in the best possible manner and be able to say in regard to all the commandments, לא עברתי ממצוותיך ולא שכחתי.

What, Me Worry? by David Gertler

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Rabbi Zvi Grumet