Reflecting on today’s day of service, I remind myself of a quote of Sylvia Boorstein’s, “Clearly the path of mitzvot is a path of meditation.” Seeing how far that this congregation changed in the world in just one day, I find extreme truth in this statement. By helping others, we improve not only their world but also our own. As Boorstein indicates, mitzvot provide the foundation for outer as well as inner peace. Today, I planted flowers in the B’nai Shalom gardens. People, some in our community and others visiting the temple, will view these flowers’ beauty. Perhaps, their sweet smell or brilliant color will provide cheer not felt by the individual on that particular day. Others prepared packages for several local organizations, accompanied the far too often ignored residents of Whitney Place, or took part in home construction for those who still wander without a place to call a home. God made the world imperfect during creation. Kabbalah indicates that when God tried to fill the world with God’s perfection, such substances combusted, unable to contain such holiness. Each and every act of love and kindness brings the Jewish people closer to meditation and the perfection God holds. Though never fully achievable, holiness is one’s relationship with God or that perfection in the world. To grow holier is to seem more perfect, more synchronized with what God tried to create. Often in the Western World, however, people congratulate themselves for a good deed. How often do we, say, serve food to the hungry and admire ourselves for being a decent person? Mitzvot, of course, are about the action and the reward it provides the citizen, not ourselves. The “mitzvah doer’s high” is a bonus to one’s enriching of the world, but the tranquility Boorstein describes refers to something greater than self-congratulation.
Mitzvot (God’s commandments) offer redemption for the individual that extends beyond qualifying oneself merely as a decent person. Holiness is upholding the three things the world stands upon and thereby establishing a closer relationship with God. The Torah and study of it establishes our foundation; in reading Genesis to Deuteronomy, one learns how to self-actualize and sift through the 613 mitzvot necessary for such fulfillment. Each commandment, be it as ancient as sacrifice or as relevant as forbidding murder, offers not an actual task but a value. For these examples, the values are discipline and the preciousness of life respectively. Once we know how to fulfill our potential, we turn to Avodah for the empowerment to achieve this personal mission. Prayers actually solve nothing. Really, in saying Mi Shebeirach over a sick loved one does not suddenly “inspire God” to heal them of their illness. In the freedoms of this universe, God chooses not to interfere in the lives of human beings in such a manner. Rather, prayer enables us to hope and share our sorrows in a constructive manner. Mi Shebeirach causes us to truly believe that the efforts we make on the Earth will eradicate disease and cure our loved ones. Just as Torah reveals to us a personal mission, worship indicates the belief and the path to reach these dividends. Then, we come to Mitzvah Day, not today but really every day. After knowledge and belief, action follows. Our personal mission allows us to perform service with a close yet selfless school of thought. Instead of pride in our own goodness, this type of service allows for fulfillment that sustains us. The knowledge that our efforts in Habitat for Humanity saved a homeless family from another cold winter or that our work in beautifying the temple today creates a better world for the people we know or do not know who will be affected by our efforts lift the world and brings not pride in ourselves, merely wholeness and holiness.
The community of Congregation B’nai Shalom met at 9 am this morning with the intent of improving the world. People from all over the Metrowest united as Jews to really make a difference. Today, we call it Mitzvah Day. Tomorrow is Monday, but that Monday can be just as special as today. Do we need to build a house tomorrow to reach that same specialness? No. The benefit of following 613 mitzvot and having so many Jewish teachers, thinkers, and writers, is that our already known values as Jews guide us how to reach this redemption every day. Tragedy and cynicism deter even the best of us, but as a community, religious people, and world, we can find worldly redemption in conjunction with meditation.