IT’S A MITZVAH – Lev. 21-24 – Emor – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Some three-quarters of a century ago, I read this week’s Torah section at my Bar Mitzvah, and this year for the first time one of the youngest members of our extended family will share it with me. It is one of those sections that seem highly appropriate for an occasion when one reaches the age to fulfill Mitzvos.
Here we learn about the ancient procedures in the Sanctuary, and how the cohanim – the priestly tribe – got their orders to offer the sacrifices. We also learn rules about how to treat ourselves, how to treat each other, and what constitutes honoring or desecrating the Name of G-d. We learn about the holidays, when they come and how to observe them. And we learn about relations with strangers (call them foreigners, aliens — or maybe illegal immigrants?) We also read penalties to be exacted for different violations of the law. For example: “One who kills an animal must pay for it. One who kills a man must die.” And a caution: “You shall have one law for the stranger and the native.” No distinction, even though the alien was held responsible only for the Seven Mitzvos of Noah – not the 613 of Israel.
So what’s a Mitzvah anyway? What did I acquire when I read this section and got congratulated?
If I did it well, I could be told that I “earned a Mitzvah.” Of course, if I helped an old lady to cross the street I could be told the same thing. So, is a Mitzvah a Good Deed?
It’s that and much more. Just one sentence in this week’s reading, Chapter 22 verse 31, says it clearly: “Keep my Mitzvos and do them; I am G-d.” Our Mitzvos are our responsibilities. Not just a voluntary good deed, but a sacred responsibility. We hold them sacred because they come from G-d. Sometimes they are easy, and sometimes not. But they are worth doing. Earning credit for a Mitzvah indicates that you accomplished two things: carried out a responsibility that might benefit someone else, and also built your own character a little higher, a little stronger. Mitzvos give meaning to our lives. Let’s do them and enjoy them.