Getting Better Mileage From Our Mitzvah Observance

Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner zt”l used to tell a story of an observant Jew who was not motivated to grow further. He told Rabbi Kirzner that he was in the top 10% in terms of observance, and when the other 90% of Jewry caught up, he would go further.

The Mesillas Yesharim in the chapter on Acquiring Watchfulness says that the majority of observant Jews have this attitude. He says that the average person says regarding the world to come that “if we do not have a larger portion, we will have a small one”.

From one perspective this attitude seems justified. After all observant Jews keep Shabbos, do mitzvos, learn Torah, daven, etc.. Aren’t we doing what G-d wants from us?

The Mesillas Yesharim in the chapter on Man’s Duty in this World points the way to our mistake. We are confusing the ends with the means. Observing mitzvos are indeed the means, but the goal is to continually growing in our connection to Hashem. If we don’t notice progress in that goal of closer connection, then we’re not getting the appropriate value from our mitzvah observance.

The Mesillas Yesharim also tells us what we’re doing wrong, we’re not focused on improving our performance of the mitzvos. We need to be more careful in their observance, and more mindful when we perform them. If we follow the Torah’s prescription in mitzvah performance, we will achieve the goal of continuous growth in our connection to Hashem.

Let’s try a simple experiment for one week. Once a day let’s make a brocha on coffee or water with more focus and mindfulness. At the end of each day mark down whether you made the brocha with more focus.
Here’s a standard understanding of the brocha you can use to increase your focus:

Baruch Atah – You are the source of all blessing
Adonai – Master of all (who always was, is, and will be)
Eloheinu – The source of all powers
Melech HaOlam – King of the World
Shehakol Nihyah- everything was created
Bidvaro – through His words

In a brocha over water we can focus on
1) The reality of Hashem’s existence
2) His creation of everything in existence
3) His continual supervision of everything
4) His absolute authority over everything
5) His transformation of the spiritual into the physical

Let’s hope this a week where we can start to get more mileage from our mitzvos.

6 comments on “Getting Better Mileage From Our Mitzvah Observance

  1. Hi,

    It has been a week since I accepted the invite to cheshbon my brachos.

    For sure, obviously, there was more focus and mindfulness. Some brachos over coffee and water with Crystal Light Grape energy powder were at work and some done at home.
    I found that other brachos I made during the way were also said with more kavannah than usual.

    All, in all, I’d say the effect was positive for me and I suggest anyone who reads this should give it a try.

  2. Micha, thanks for that translation.

    As it turns out, I have studied your piece on “What is a Berakhah” a number of times:

    For this post, I wanted to give a simpler translation, and avoid more complicated understandings like the Nefesh Hachaim or Derech HaShem because I want to make this an easy to perform exercise for myself and others.

    I probably shouldn’t have even included the dual meaning of Hashem (Master of all and Who always was, is, and will be) and only did because some of the halachic sources state that we should think about both how it’s pronounced and the meaning of the Name as it is written.

    In any case, the goal is to use an understanding that you can easily remember and apply when you’re actually making the Brocha.

  3. I have a practice around my first cup of the day. (Shout out to fellow caffeine addict, Neil!) Also involving the berakhah of Shehakol, but I personally translate it differently, more in concert with Nefesh haChaim shaar 2. Also, I take the name

    A- Baruch Atah – You are the Wellspring
    B- Hashem – the Cause of all Existence Who stands outside it
    C- E-lokeinu Who gives order to all powers

    D- Melekh haOlam – King of the universe

    C- Shehakol – that all of creation
    B- Nihyeh – does exist
    A Bidvaro – by His word

    The first part of the berakhah is to “You”, the berakhah ends “bidvaro” — His word. One is a progression to accepting Hashem as King, the other a progression from. And there is a symmetry between the two halves. A mirror at “Malekh haOlam”.

    We open by saying Hashem is the Bereikhah, the wellspring. We close by recognizing that all of existence is His Word. “And E-lokim said, ‘Let there be light” and that was light.”

    We continue with the name Y-HVH, which is the causal conjugation of /hvh/ to exist. Cause of all existence. Notably the second to last concept in the berakhah — nihyeh (or nihyah) from the same root.

    E-lokeinu is the coordinator and lawgiver of all the forces that drive every event. Recognizing that is the half-step before calling Hashem King. And the half-step after: shehakol, that He is indeed responsible for *everything*.

    That word is how existence flows from the source. Hashem says “let there by life
    Eloheinu – The source of all powers
    Melech HaOlam – King of the World
    Shehakol Nihyah- everything was created
    Bidvaro – through His words

  4. Neil, if you can do the Cheshbon component and let me know the results next week it would be greatly appreciated.

    I’m thinking that it will probably take a little bit longer to notice a change, but a week is a doable initial target.

Comments are closed.