The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

Become a Supporter Library Library

“Turn from evil and do good; pursue shalom (completeness)….” — Tehillim 34:15

If one were to purchase the finest wine, yet carelessly place it into a vessel with cracks, he will find that his precious wine will go to waste. So too, if one were to concentrate only on the performance of the positive commandments, while at the same time carelessly transgressing the negative ones, the benefit from the positive commands will be offset by the spiritual damage caused by the transgressions. It is also explained that the positive commandments are rooted in love, while the negative commandments are rooted in fear and reverence. Accordingly, though one who fulfills the positive commands shows his love for G-d, one must also express his awe and reverence by guarding the negative commands.

Thus, before receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish People proclaimed “Na’aseh v’nishmah,” meaning “We will do and we will listen.” This double statement can be explained to correspond to both the positive and the negative commandments in the Torah: “doing” applies to the active mitzvot, such as praying and giving charity, while “listening” applies to keeping the negative mitzvot, such as not stealing or not eating forbidden foods.

The opening verse above first exhorts us to turn from evil, and afterwards to do good. Similarly, we are taught that before one can become cleansed from spiritual impurity one must first abandon sin. Once disconnected from sin, a person will then be able to become sanctified through performing the positive commandments. This is the meaning of “pursue shalom, completeness.” Only when one’s Divine service is complete, including both the fulfillment of the positive commands and guarding the negative commands, does the soul truly become complete, acquiring holiness and purity.

The Baal Shem Tov offers us a different way to attain spiritual wholeness. At times it is too difficult for a person to break away from sin first. He explains that sometimes it is necessary to skip the first step and jump straight to doing positive mitzvot. When one finds himself too attached to sin, the active involvement of doing mitzvot can help provide the necessary strength to break away. This is because when one does a mitzvah he becomes enveloped by the light of the Divine presence, which helps a person conquer the evil forces that push him towards sin. Thus, according to the Baal Shem Tov, the instruction to turn from evil is included in the act of doing good.

© 1995-2023 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at [email protected] and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.