Seems to me the word “mitzvah” is being used a lot these days. Usually it shows up in exclamations: “It’s a mitzvah.”
Maybe I’m noticing this because the recent preponderance of unnaturally natural disasters has highlighted people reaching out to help one another. Or, maybe this is all going on in my mind? I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the case. My mind and all that drifts through it has been irrevocably shaped by being raised Jewish and living on the East coast for ever and ever, world without end.
Mitzvah. It’s a feminine noun that tends to be used by Jews and non-Jews alike to mean “good deed.” More accurately, the word means “commandment.” Jewish law is comprised of 613 mitzvot and I like what Chasidic teachers do with this word. They teach that because the root word (tzavta) means “connection,” every mitzvah is a way to connect with God.
“What a mitzvah,” we say when someone is helpful or generous or kind or compassionate. Fine by me. God knows I don’t have the power to change colloquial usage. Still, I’d love it if whenever we proclaim something a mitzvah, we’d remember that loving another like oneself is indeed a commandment, one that deepens our connection to God.
Look what happens to Matthew 22:36-40 when the word mitzvah is properly used:
“Teacher, which is the greatest mitzvah in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest mitzvah. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.”
Each Saturday, this Catholic studies Torah with a small group of Jewish guys. I so love the new things I am always learning. One of the men in the group is Orthodox and I look to him for the real core of meaning in what we study (which is funny, as I was raised Baptist, where disagreeing is common).
He is so deeply connected to G-d, speaks so lovingly of the 613 mitzvot, and is so observant that his holiness takes my breath away.
If I could be connected to G-d like that…maybe I’d be doing a mitzvah!