Doing Mitzvos With Kavanah

Sefer Shemot concludes with completion of the construction of the Mishkan and the appearance of Hashem’s Glory above the holy structure. Throughout the detailed description of the creation of each holy component, the Torah repeats that the Children of Israel did “in the manner as commanded by Hashem.” The Torah is written in a terse, concise manner. We are taught that not even one letter in Hashem’s composition is unnecessary. We would assume that these great people under the leadership of Moshe and Hashem’s choice of builder, Betzalel, would certainly not waver one iota from the instructions given to them. Wouldn’t it have been sufficient to conclude the description of Bnei Yisrael’s successful project with a clear statement that all that they did was “in the manner as commanded by Hashem”?

Two researchers decided to study a distant, foreign land together. When they arrived at their destination they began to travel around the country, to study the lifestyle, eating habits and customs of the residents. They examined and charted topography and recorded the types of produce and vegetation indigenous to the area. They left no stone unturned. After a while, they became like the locals, living as the lifelong residents did.

One day one of the researchers said, “I think it’s time to head back home.”

The second man agreed but raised a question. “Can you tell me the goal of our trip? For the life of me, I have a lot of details recorded in my log but I can’t remember the real purpose of our study.”

“I’m sorry. I too have no idea as to why we made this journey and what is expected by the folks back home who sent us!” the other researcher declared.

Sometimes a person resolves to embark on a worthwhile journey — to take on a commendable project. It might be to learn more Torah or perhaps to get involved in more chessed. At first it is mitzvah performance that gets him involved, but eventually repetition becomes habitual and rote performance results. The guiding purpose is lost and the act is performed, but without focusing on the desire to do as Hashem wishes. A man may learn for many years or a person may do chessed and give tzedakah every day, yet lose sight of the fact that the right reason to do so is because Hashem has commanded.

When our forefathers were involved in the construction of the Tabernacle they constantly reminded themselves that they were involved in a mitzvah. In Jewish law the rule is that mitzvot need focused intent (kavanah). Daily performance diminishes sensitivity and awareness of the true purpose of one’s actions. Therefore, they reminded themselves that they were acting “in a manner as commanded by Hashem.”

Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, in his Tzetel Kattan, says, “In all matters — whether Torah, whether prayer, whether in practical commandments — one should train oneself to say: ‘I am hereby performing this action for the sake of Hashem’s Holy Name in order to bring pleasure and satisfaction to my Creator.’ One should say this with heartfelt feeling. As time goes on, one will feel the enlightenment this statement brings.”

Many of us have become consistent in our performance of Hashem’s Will — now we must work hard to continue to do these commendable deeds with feeling and intent like the first time.

Shabbat shalom.