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One Mitzvah at a Time  -- Life's Elevator

07/18/2021 01:41:14 PM


Rabbi Rudin

With the end of Tisha B'Av, can the High Holidays be far behind?  And... so what?  What can this calendar fact mean for us?

The Slonimer Rebbe, one of Israel's Hasidic masters, writes in his book, "Ways of Peace," that there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah.  And what is a mitzvah?  A good deed?  An order from on high?  A kind act?  None of those, says the Slonimer, but also, all of them. What it really is, is an opportunity.  An opportunity to connect with life at a higher level.  Six-hundred-thirteen ways to connect at a higher level, to be more fully alive.  

Why do we need so many?  And what's with the number 613?  Well, there are 365 "don'ts."  A "don't" is really a form of self-discipline -- like "don't spend eight hours on TikTok" -- that frees you to do the things that ultimately matter and aim you toward happiness, fulfillment and meaning.   There are 365 opportunities -- one for every day of the year -- to remind us that time is a precious gift and to use the time we have for stuff that really matters while setting limits on the stuff that isn't going to move us forward.  Nothing wrong with some time on activities that we enjoy or that we find relaxing and escapist- as long as they remain the "dessert" and don't take over as the entree in the daily feast of our lives. 

There are also 248 "do's" in the Torah.  This number, they tell us, corresponds to the grand total sum of bones, organs and limbs in the body. In other words. every aspect of our selves -- physical, mental, emotional, spiritual -- can be used as an opportunity to connect to our higher lives.  

The point isn't to do all 613 mitzvot all the time.  The point is to do one mitzvah, take one opportunity to connect.  It's like riding the elevator up to the top of the Empire State Building.  There have to be like 20 elevators.  Which one do you take?  The answer: any of them, they all bring you up to the top.  A mitzvah is like an elevator.  Find the one that works for you.

So between now and Rosh Hashana, set ONE spiritual goal and go for it.  How?  Every mitzvah involves action, intention and tradition, which roots the action in the deepest layers of your identity. So here are a few ideas that are short, simple and yield fast results if you are willing to work at them a bit:

1. Shema Moment: Make a point of beginning each day with a moment of aspiration and ending each day with a moment of gratitude. Say "Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad" and then, in the morning, say out loud to yourself a goal -- ANYTHING: to smile at one person, to call a loved one during the day, to reward yourself with an ice cream, to take a walk break. And end the day with a deliberate moment where you express gratitude for something that you enjoyed or appreciated during the day: a conversation with someone, a beautiful sight, a fun experience.  When you have done this, spiritualize the moment with the Shema

Try it for a few days and reflect on what impact this practice has on your consciousness. By beginning the day with a spiritual goal and concluding the day with a sense of gratitude, you may feel a greater sense of purpose, uplift and personal connection with every day's activities. 

2. Tzedaka Power: Set a goal of, once a week, donating a certain amount of money to a cause that you find meaningful and important.  Make the choice deliberate and thoughtful and form an intention:  I dedicate this tzedaka to [think of a person who could really use a spiritual "zetz" of love energy]. Say "and may this tzedaka help [think of a purpose; don't be afraid to make it grandiose and powerful]".  Try to do this at the same day/time each week.  By making this a habit, you may be in to become aware of the opportunities given to each of us every day to realize personal empowerment: putting forth rather than consuming and taking in.  

3. Blessing Moment: ONE time each day, make an effort to do one thing with FULL awareness.  Even a morsel of food or a sip of coffee, a deep breath, holding hands, a glance at a loved one can unlock a door to incredible abundance if you do it with your full attention.  In Judaism, awareness is invoked with a bracha.  Activate your mindfulness superpower by, before engaging in the act, saying this "general blessing:" "Baruch hatov t'hameytiv," ("Gratitude to the Source of tov who does good,")  and then -- enjoy!

4. Study Moment: Life is short and Torah is long.  BUT you can read TWO mishnas each day from Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Ancestors) for a refreshing and inspiring taste of this most powerful spiritual resource.  Reflect for just a moment or two on the meaning of the teaching in your life.  Two seems to be the secret sauce.... Don't just go through the book at random, but start with one chapter and go through it two teachings at a time.  You can find Pirkei Avot here. 

Each of these spiritual missions, these opportunities, takes less than three minutes to do each day or each week but they can be wings for your soul as we prepare for the next year: 5782 -- let's start working now, each on our own and together and open the gateways of blessing!   Shabbat Shalom!

Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784