After a short break from the discussion of Korbanot found thus far in Sefer VaYikra, the Torah states, “UShmartem Et Chukotai VeEt Mishpatai Asher Yaaseh Otam HaAdam VaChai Bahem,” “And you should follow My rules and My mandates that man shall do and live through them” (VaYikra 18:5). To what does the phrase “And live through them” refer? It can’t refer to life in this world, because there is a rule that a person is not generally rewarded for his Mitzvot in this world.
Rashi and the Noeim Migadim explain that this phrase refers to different types of reward reaped as a result of doing Hashem’s Mitzvot. Rashi maintains that it refers to reward in Olam HaBa. Similarly, the Gemara (Chulin 142a) states that one merits Olam HaBa for the act of Shiluach HaKein, sending away the mother bird, about which the Pasuk states, “LeMaan Yitav Lach VeHaarachta Yamim,” “So that it shall be good for you and your days will be lengthened” (Devarim 22:7). The Noeim Migadim, cited by the Maayanah Shel Torah, interprets the Pasuk in a different, more homiletical manner. He cites various Sefarim to the effect that although there is a rule that one generally does not receive reward for doing a Mitzvah, this rule does not apply to the protective laws which are legislated by the Rabbis of every generation. When Bnei Yisrael observe these manmade Mitzvot (“Kaasher Yaaseh Otam HaAdam”), they do indeed receive reward in this world (”VaChai Bahem”).
Other Meforshim explain “VaChai Bahem” to apply not to a reward for doing Mitzvot, but rather to a continuation and elaboration upon how to carry out Hashem’s Mitzvot. The Maayanah Shel Torah quotes several Sefarim to the effect that Mitzvot should not be done in a lifeless and perfunctory manner. Rather, they should be carried out with passion, with a Chiyut (liveliness, from the same root as the word VaChai). The Chiddushei HaRim, also cited by the Maayanah Shel Torah, writes that “VaChai Bahem” refers to the fact that when a Jew does a Mitzvah, he should be completely involved in its fulfillment. Thus, Jews have the Halacha of “Oseik BeMitzvah Patur Min HaMitzvah,” one who is involved in a Mitzvah is exempt from doing another Mitzvah (with a few exceptions) because he is so absorbed in doing the first Mitzvah that he shouldn’t be interrupted, even in order to fulfill another Mitzvah. “VaChai Bahem” could also be understood in a similar but slightly different manner. Throughout a Jew’s day-to-day life, he is constantly involved in doing Mitzvot. Mitzvot are not simply acts which, at the time of their fulfillment, bring a Jew closer to Hashem. They are the guidelines by which a Jew should lead his life and cleave to Hashem.
Hashem picked us as His nation and gave us the Torah so that we would do His will and follow His Mitzvot and Halachot. Therefore, He mandated that we mend all of our actions to conform to His will. This should be viewed not as a burden, but rather as a great reward; Hashem is giving us the key to enjoying and getting the best out of this and the next world. May it be Hashem’s will that we passionately and thoroughly involve ourselves throughout our lives in His Mitzvot, whether protective fences created by the Rabbis or concrete Mitzvot Deoraita, and reap the benefits both in Olam HaZeh and Olam HaBa, in accordance with all the explanations of “VaChai Bahem.”