|Targum shel Yonoson-Acharei- Kedoshim-Life before Death|
|Written by Rabbi Jonathan Ziskind|
A fellow was in shull with his son. They had just finished praying and the father sat down to learn for a few minutes. Handing him a coin, the father asked his son to buy him a drink from the coffee machine. The son complied and returned with the coffee which he placed in front of his father. The father looked up, thanked his son and then asked with excitement, “Son, do you realize what this cup is?!” The son wasn’t quite sure what the question or the excitement was about.
The father continued with enthusiasm, “Do you appreciate the speciality of this cup of coffee? This little cup of innocent coffee is like the blowing of the shofar on the holy day of Rosh Hashono, it is like eating matzah on Pesach night, it is like shaking a lulov on Succos.”
“What do you mean, daddy?” the son asked somewhat bewildered.
“My son,” continued the father, “you should be just as excited when bringing me this cup of coffee as when you ate that matzah on Pesach or when you held the lulov on Succos. This cup of coffee should be as important to you as the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashono. By bringing me this cup you fulfilled a divine commandment in the Torah, you did the will of Hashem, you performed the mitzvah of Kibud av (respecting one’s father). This humble cup of coffee is an entry ticket to the next world- celebrate, be joyous!”
The son received a marvellous lesson in the way we should perform mitzvos and the attitude we should have towards them.
The Torah tells us in parshas ki sovo that many terrible hardships and punishments will befall the Jewish people because they did not serve Hashem with happiness. It would seem that performance of mitzvos alone is not good enough. Our attitude towards them and the feeling with which we do them is vital. We should do them with excitement and with happiness.
In Parshas Acharei it says, “ushmartem es chukosai v’es mishpotei asher ya’aseh osom ho’odom vochai bohem…” You shall observe My decrees and My judgments, which man shall carry out and live by them…” What does the words “vochai bohem”- you shall live by them, mean? One explanation is that by keeping the mitzvos we earn eternal life in the next world. Another explanation is that we are supposed to keep the mitzvos in a way that we remain alive. Except for the three cardinal sins (idol worship, immorality and murder), a Jew does not have to give up his life in order to perform the mitzvos. Live by them; don’t die because of them!
I would like to suggest a third interpretation. When observing the mitzvos and carrying out the will of Hashem, do it with life, do it with zest, do it with enjoyment and with enthusiasm- “vochai bohem”. (see Haamek Dovor)
The Prophet Malachi reprimanded the Jews in the name of Hashem. “You have spoken harshly towards Me.” says Hashem. “And you (the Jewish nation) say, ‘What did we say against You?’ You said, ‘it is futile to serve Hashem, what do we gain if we observe his commandments and we have walked mournfully before Hashem.’” The initial reaction of the Jews was, “What did we say against You?” The commentaries ask, how could it be that the Jews were not aware of what they had said, after all, Hashem had some real serious allegations against them?
The answer lies in the last part of the verse, “we have walked mournfully before you”. The Jews perhaps, had not expressed their complaints verbally. Rather, the way they went about their performance of mitzvos spoke volumes. They performed the mitzvos mournfully, with sadness, pitifully and as a burden. They did the mitzvos without excitement and joy. Through their actions they were saying, “This is really pointless, and not of value.” Something that is important, meaningful and profitable one does with enthusiasm.HashemH
Reb Yechiel Yaakovson was once helping some Jewish teenagers who had strayed from the religious path with which they were bought up. He invited them to join a seminar which was aimed at a non-religious audience. After the seminar R’ Yaakovson asked the teenagers what they thought. They said, “These non-religious Jews seem to be interested in life after death and the world to come, but we are interested to know if there is life before death.” These youths had not tasted “the life” there is to be had in following the Torah. They had not experienced the joy in fulfilling the mitzvos.