A number of months ago, I got into the office to find a message on my voicemail that made my day. It was Gary B. I don’t know Gary that well – he attends the local temple. But his son, Alex, got involved with NCSY and started keeping Shabbos and kosher, culminating in his decision to spend a year in yeshiva in Israel.
“Rabbi, could you please advise us how to kasher our kitchen? Alex is coming back from Israel and we want to make sure that he is able to eat in our home.” I returned his call and made arrangements to come by.
Standing there, blowtorch in hand, I commended Gary and his wife, Patricia, on their readiness to make accommodations for their son. “Many others would totally resist their kid’s lifestyle choice. It’s really amazing that you are willing to change your habits for him!”
“That’s really nice you say that, Rabbi,” Gary replied, “We are indeed doing our best to bend over backwards for Alex. But I’ve got to tell you, his attitude is distressing us. He was such a sweet kid and now it seems he’s lost all respect for us. I don’t know what happened in yeshiva, but you’d think that he’d at least come back a mensch!?!”
The Mishnah states: If Purim fell on Shabbos, villages and big cities advance the reading to Thursday, the day of gathering.
The Gemara asks: Everyone agrees that we do not read the Megillah on Shabbos. What is the reason?
Rabbi Joseph answers: Because the eyes of the poor are raised up to the reading of the Megillah.
Rashi explains that the Megillah reading reminds them that they are about to receive the Matanos l’Evyonim (Gifts to the Poor, one of the four special mitzvos of Purim) and that is not possible on Shabbos, since we do not handle money on the Sabbath. Therefore, so as not to disappoint the needy, we move the Megillah reading to a day that we can distribute alms.
Why would the poor people expect their monetary gifts on Shabbos? They know that you can’t handle money on Shabbos and they couldn’t spend the money, anyway! Why couldn’t we just read the Megillah and then give them the money after Shabbos? It hardly seems like sufficient reason to read the Megillah on the wrong day!
Rabbi Joseph’s message is that the Megillah reading, just like every mitzvah, must be transformative. If you can do a mitzvah and not be a better human being for it, you’ve missed the point. How could you read the Megillah and not be immediately inspired to help the needy?
Many of us, sadly, compartmentalize our mitzvos into those that are between me and G-d and those that are between me and my fellow human beings. Certainly, those categories exist – as the two Tablets of the Ten Commandments attest to. But there is an essential connection between both categories of mitzvah. It’s not a case of ‘ne’er the twain shall meet.’ They are dependent upon one another – if the ‘G-d’ mitzvos don’t inspire you to fulfill the ‘man’ mitzvos, then you don’t get it. You’ve failed to grasp the Torah’s expectation of you!
The Almighty gives us mitzvos to refine us, to make us better people. When the miracle of Purim occurred, Mordechai and Esther were inspired to help the needy. If you read the Megillah and are not immediately inspired to help those in need, you should probably read it again.
If you put on tefillin and are not inspired to be the most ethical person in your corporate world, you should probably try on those tefillin once more. If you can spend a year learning Torah, only to come back lacking respect for your parents, you need to ask yourself ‘what was the point of it all?’
Mitzvos must be transformative. Do a mitzvah today and become a better person for it! Keeping Shabbos means learning to spend more time with your children. Keeping kosher means realizing that the Almighty wants you to act humanely to all His creatures and help them achieve their spiritual mission. Keeping the laws of family purity means learning how to make your spouse happy psychologically and emotionally – marriage is much more than a physical relationship.
The Torah is a complex recipe for transformation – spiritual transformation, physical transformation, psychological transformation; but most importantly character transformation. Once you appreciate that, you will be on the path to your true performance of all the mitzvos!