The Purpose of a Mitzvah

Question

Dear Rabbi, what is the purpose of a mitzvah? Thanks.

2 weeks

Answers

  1. Although the word mitzvah is often used by people to mean any good deed, I assume you are using the word mitzvah in terms of any commandment that is part of Judaism.

    The purpose of a mitzvah is to keep us reminded of our relationship with God. The mitzvahs are intended to be an integral part of every facet of our lives. In turn, this awareness that God is with us at all times encourages us to do more mitzvahs. The result of all this is that the more we are involved in doing mitzvahs, the “closer” we are to God.

    Our great rabbinical teachings further explain this connection between doing a mitzvah and becoming closer to God. They teach that the word “mitzvah” is not just a random grouping of letters. Although the word mitzvah is usually (and correctly) translated as “a commandment,” in its deepest meaning it is really much more. The word “mitzvah” and the word “tzavta” share the same Hebrew root. “Tzavta” means “to accompany.” This teaches that when a person does a mitzvah he is accompanied by God.

    In addition to the basic purpose of each mitzvah to bring us closer to God, there is an additional aspect to a mitzvah called “the reason of the mitzvah.” It is a topic of great interest in Jewish studies and literature to explore the “reason” for each individual mitzvah. Some reasons are more evident, such as not to murder and not to steal, while others are less obvious at first glance. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating pursuit of wisdom to try to gain an understanding behind the reason for each and every mitzvah. Many books have been written on this subject, perhaps most notably Sefer Hachinuch — The Book of Education — attributed to Rabbi Aharon Halevi of Barcelona in the 13th century. For example, regarding the ban against muzzling an ox while it is threshing, he writes: “It is the duty of a person to show kindness, compassion, and consideration to one’s fellow creatures… and in doing this we also educate our soul to be kinder to our fellow people.”

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team