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A simple and important casing for life

Friday, 7 August, 2020 - 6:53 am

 We all love to talk about stories of mesirut nefesh – heroic actions of Jews who went all the way – about wonderful closeness to the Creator, amazing Torah learning or a rare and special good deed. But the truth is that none of this would be possible without the “simple” framework of everyday mitzvahs, those that an observant Jew doesn’t feel very special when he performs them.

You know, I was raised on stories of Jewish heroism. As children of Russian Chabad families going several generations back, my wife and I were suffused with stories of lofty acts of observing the mitzvahs personally as well as of preserving the Jewish spark for the Jewish people as a whole. I have already told you a significant number of such stories; some of them I will tell in the future, and the truth is that they are not only stories, but already part of my life and my family’s life. They are deeply embedded in us.

As the years go by, I understand that the stories of heroism are just the picture. I now understand that in everyday life, and especially when the Jewish people are living a comfortable life, Thank G-d, it is necessary to create a simple casing – and be meticulous about maintaining it.

The simple framework of life starts with praying three times a day in a shul, continues with regular daily Torah classes, and goes on to ordinary good deeds, such as visiting the sick in person or by phone, and a little Gemach (project of gemilut chesed – helping others) on the side. This way of life is usually not exciting; it has nothing of the fire and enthusiasm of stories of endangering one’s life for the sake of mitzvahs. There’s no story to tell, and it won’t receive many “likes”, as we say today. But it has the ability to maintain us as G-d-fearing Jews.

Perhaps because this frame is comparatively dry, it has less movement and turmoil. But that’s what a frame needs: less movement and upheavals and more order and stability.

I don’t know if that’s what Chazal meant at the beginning of parashat Ekev, when they remarked that one must observe the mitzvahs that “a person steps on with his heels”, in other words, observe the “light” mitzvahs. Perhaps because of the frame’s “simplicity” it is considered a mitzvah that a person steps on unthinkingly.

Personally, I am not at all sure what is a “light” mitzvah and what is a “serious” mitzvah. As far as I’m concerned, this is a subjective definition dependent on one’s style and personality. For instance, the framework I just mentioned – there are those for whom it is the easiest and simplest thing to do, and for others it is the most difficult and challenging.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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