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There are a whole slew of mitzvos in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei. The Sefer Hachinuch enumerates 74 to be exact, from mitzvah 532 to mitzvah 605. The Medrish Rabbah gives a fascinating insight into the dynamics of a mitzvah which should give us a whole new appreciation of our performances of mitzvos.
The Medrish begins by quoting a pasuk in Mishlei: “For they are a wreath of grace for your head,” (כִּ֤י לִוְיַ֤ת חֵ֓ן הֵ֬ם לְרֹאשֶׁ֑ךָ, Mishlei 1:9). In the second interpretation of this pasuk the medrish says the word לִוְיַ֤ת could also mean surrounding (just like a wreath). “Rebbe Pinchas bar Chama says that mitzvos surround you everywhere you go. ‘When you build a house… and you shall make a fence for your roof’ (Devarim 22:8). If you make a door, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘a(A)nd you shall write them on the door post of your house’ (Devarim 6:9). If you wear new clothes, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘You shall not wear shaatnez,’ (a mixture of wool and linen in the same garment.) If you go to get a haircut, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘You shall not cut off the corners of your head.’ And if you have a field to plow, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘You shall not plow with an ox and a horse together’ (Devarim 22:10). And if you plant, mitzvos surround you, as it says, ‘You shall not plant a mixture of seeds in your vineyard’ (Devarim 22:9). And if you harvest, mitzvos surround you, as it says ‘When you harvest your harvest in your field and you forgot a sheaf in the field’ (Devarim 24:19). The Holy One Blessed Be He said even if you are not doing anything, just taking a stroll, mitzvos surround you, how do you know, for it says, ‘when you happen upon a birds nest in front of you’ (Devarim 22:6)” (Medrish Rabba Devarim 6:3).
The Rada”l observes that the medrish is of the opinion like the Zohar that one has an obligation to shoo away a mother bird even if he happens upon a nest with a mother and chicks inside and originally had no intention of taking the chicks or eggs. The Rada”l also asked why the mitzvah of forgotten bundles of grain which must be left for the poor is mentioned in the medrish instead of the mitzvah of peah (leaving over the corner of one’s field for the poor) or leket (stalks that fell during the harvest which also should be left for the poor)? The Rada”l answers that the medrish is teaching us that even without the knowledge or will of a person, Hashem brings him mitzvos to bless him with, as the Torah concludes in that mitzvah: “In order that Hashem your G-D will bless you in all your actions” (Devarim 24:19). (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
This medrish sounds poetic! But there is a very practical and inspiring lesson that one should meditate on and take to heart. It is very easy to recognize how one is surrounded physically by mitzvos, when wearing tzitzis or being in a sukkah on Sukkos. Chazal even say that by wearing a tallis and draping it over his head it should have the effect of focusing oneself in fear of Hashem. Also by surrounding oneself with tzitzis, which represents the 613 mitzvos, it reminds a person to fulfill the mitzvos. So too Chazal talk about the uniqueness of the mitzvah of sukkah, where one literally has the chance to be surrounded by a mitzvah, physically, in his totality. But this medrish takes it a step further. A person is able to be surrounded by mitzvos all the time, every single second of the day! Not only by doing mitzvos like praying, putting on tallis and tefillin, learning Torah, saying blessings when appropriate, and doing acts of kindness. But even the very fact you are living in a house with mezuzos and, with a roof, if you are able to go up on it, which has a fence around it, you are constantly surrounded by these mitzvos. The ramifications being, you are surrounded by the blessing and reward that goes into the mitzvos that are being fulfilled constantly, for example, by just living in your house with the mezuzah you put up many years ago when you first moved in.
It doesn’t stop there; the medrish points out another incredible aspect of the nature of a mitzvah. Every single negative mitzvah you don’t do when you have the opportunity also surrounds you at every moment with all its blessings and rewards. For example, by just wearing clothes that do not have shaatnez in them you are constantly surrounded by that mitzvah since you have that opportunity of wearing clothes made out of wool and linen but don’t. A farmer could have been plowing with an ox and horse leading the plow but doesn’t, he is then surrounded by that mitzvah with all its blessing and reward. Another example is in a situation where he or she could have spoken lashon hara, slander, but doesn’t he or she is surrounded by that mitzvah, etc. etc.!
Hashem’s benevolence doesn’t stop there! Hashem even creates situations where you are handed a mitzvah without even intending to do it, like by the mitzvah of shichacha, the forgotten bundle of wheat which must be left for the poor. The Torah goes out of its way to mention that one even gets a blessing for fulfilling that mitzvah, all the more so for intentionally doing calculated mitzvos. Hashem even brings you to mitzvos, according to this medrish, like by the mitzvah of shiluach hakan, shooing away the mother bird, if one is just taking a stroll and happens upon the ability of doing this mitzvah.
What lesson do we learn from this medrish? Besides psychologically, having the peace of mind that wherever you go you are surrounded by blessing and reward for the mitzvos you do, by fulfilling the positive mitzvos and not transgressing the negative mitzvos, there is also a very practical aspect towards this medrish. That is, if one truly appreciates this gift we are pretty much constantly surrounded by then there will be a whole new level of kavana, intent, when performing the mitzvah or not transgressing the sin so now the quality of one’s mitzvos will be keener, which means more blessing and more reward.
With this outlook towards mitzvos our service of Hashem could be taken to a whole new level and a bigger kiddush Hashem!