Doing Mitzvah’s

Copyright (C) 1975 by the Members of the House of Love and Prayer
Reprinted with the permission of all the Holy Beggars….

Not for commercial redistribution without
written consent of the Estate of Reb Shlomo Carlebach

San Francisco, 5735.

Transcribed and edited by (Rabbi) Elana Rappaport (Shechter)
Rabbeinu speaking

    Reb Arele Roth says, “Blessed be He and praised be He for crowning us
with mitzvot.” Some people do things which remain on the level of their
hands. Some people do things which become a crown. Reb Nachman says
that the highest thing we have is our hands, because they can reach
higher than our heads. The way we should do G-d’s will is that our hands
should be uplifted higher than “I”. Anything higher than my head is my crown.

  We have 613 mitzvot, 613 laws. I don’t like the word “laws,” because
they are not laws. The word law reminds you of police, some “straight”
character sitting there telling you what to do. Very bad translation. Mitzva
means that G-d gave us 613 ways to come close to Him. The ways are
divided into two parts, 248 ways of reaching G-d by doing certain things,
and 365 ways of reaching Him by not doing certain things. If there is a red
light and I don’t go, nothing happens, right? I just don’t cross the street.
However, if G-d’s red light flashed and I stop when I have a chance to do
wrong, then something happens inside me. Something happened to me; I
walked a few steps higher.

    Thoughts, words and actions are the three revelations of my soul. On
the “reality” level, action is the strongest. On the soul level, action is the
furthest away. Speech is a little closer. Thought is really it, because a
person is what he thinks. I am not what I am doing, because sometimes
people or circumstances can force me to do things. The most private thing
in the world is thought; so nobody can say, “I was forced to think this way.”
Who forced you? If I want to know who I am I don’t have to look in a mirror.
I just close my eyes and check what I am thinking about.

    Reb Arele says every mitzva has to be done on all three levels. If I give
a poor man a dollar I fulfill the mitzva of giving charity with my hands. If I
am more of a mentch, if I am more real, I say, “How are you, my friend? Is
there anything else I can do for you?” Talking to him fulfills the mitzva of
charity on a speech level. I can also fulfill it on a thought level. Believe
me, the poor man will know whether you thought of him while you gave
him the dollar, or if you were thinking of something else. He will feel it.

  When I do a mitzva I am drawing life upon myself. I am actually opening
a gate in Heaven and life is flowing into me. If I do a mitzva only on the
action level, then the life that flows into me is on an action level, far away
from my soul. If I also use speech, I get a little closer and my spirit also
receives life. A mitzva on the thought level is complete, and life reaches
me in a deep way. Reb Arele says even this is not the deepest depths. The
deepest depths is doing something so heartbreakingly hard that all of me
has to struggle. Then not only my actions, speech and thought receive life;
all of me, even my skin, receives life.

    I heard a story in Lubavitch about the Friherdiker Rebbe, the previous
Rebbe. Sometime before Pesach a boy came who wanted to learn in the
Yeshiva. The Rebbe said he looked to see if the boy still had the image of
G-d on his face, and he saw the boy had completely defaced himself. The
Rebbe asked his father (the Rebbe RaSHa"B) what to do with this boy,
saying, “I’d hate not to accept him in the Yeshiva, but I also hate to have
someone around who doesn’t have a face. What shall I do?” The Friherdiker
Rebbe’s father said, “Make him work hard.” So three days before Pesach
the Rebbe called the boy in and said, “I put you in charge of the matza. On
top of that, I want you to come to my room every morning at three o’clock
and recite by heart ten chapters of Mishnayot.” That could knock you off
even if you didn’t have anything else to do. The boy had to exert himself
to the utmost, with every bit of physical, emotional and spiritual strength
he had. When it came to Seder night the Friherdiker Rebbe’s father said,
“This boy is really shining now. He is really shining.”

    Sometimes someone asks a favor which is very hard. We don’t have the
faintest idea what a favor the person is doing us by asking. At that very
moment G-d is opening gates for us, giving us a chance to have the image
of G-d on our face again. We have to wash and polish ourselves, but
sometimes there is so much dirt that soap and water aren’t enough, we
have to rub and scratch the dirt off. Even that isn’t enough sometimes,
and we have to go to a sauna. You have to do a mitzva on the level of a
sauna, burning hot. Sweat it out.

    How can a person know on what level he is receiving life? It is possible
to receive it on action, speech and thought levels, but those don’t reach
the deeper “I”. it is possible that someone never made one wrong move,
never uttered one bad word, never had one evil thought, but there is
something deeper than all that. It is also possible that every action is
wrong, every word is bad, every thought is also bad, but deep, deep inside
is the holy of holiest. In either case the person never reached the deepest
insides. The person who has only holy thoughts never reached the inside to
see how bad it is, and maybe the person surrounded by evil thoughts never
reached deep enough inside to realize how filled with holiness he is. Reb
Arele says that when you exert yourself, something opens your deepest
places and you get to know your inside.

    Reb Arele’s whole life philosophy was that whatever you do to serve
G-d, you have to exert yourself to the utmost. It isn’t enough to do it
with your thoughts, speech and action. It must be done with the utmost
exertion. Reb Arele was the son of a poor tailor. He grew up in Chassidic
circles, and he realized they were not what the Baal Shern Tov really
wanted. He knew the Baal Shem Tov wanted people to pray with their
whole hearts. Before World War II the little synagogues in Europe were
pretty sweet, but it wasn’t what Reb Arele wanted. He decided he had to
start it himself so he got together ten young people and they made their
own little shtibel and began praying like mad. Every word they uttered
had to be said with complete exertion. The holy Baal Shem Tov said that
if you utter a word before G-d and you are still alive afterward, it is a
miracle. The Strelisker would say good-bye to his wife every morning on
his way to daven, because he didn’t know if he would come back, his praying
was so intense.

    Sometimes we wake up in the morning and we don’t want to do anything,
as if we were dead. Sometimes not only our bodies are tired, our souls are
tired. The body gets tired from doing things, but my soul gets tired when I
don’t do anything. Reb Arele writes that he just didn’t have co’ach
(strength) to say the whole davenen with exertion. He said to the boys in
the shtibel, “Since I know the whole service will be bad, let me just say
two lines properly.” The first line was bad, and his evil voice said, “Okay,
you read the first line, only one more line to go.” He said, “No. The first
doesn’t count because I didn’t do it right. I have to begin all over again.”
He writes how much he was struggling with himself. Finally he put himself
together and he yelled the first line so loud the whole neighborhood could
hear the way he was yelling. The first line was very hard. It took real
physical exertion, yelling out every word. The second line was already
easier. Slowly, slowly the inner voice that wanted to make him tired and
sad and dead slowly began to disappear. Suddenly all the gates were open,
everything was shining.

    Reb Arele quotes a verse, “the evil are walking around.” Evil makes you
walk around and around and you never get to the center. There are people
who go around, around, around and never get to the center. They live their
whole lives without a center. Reb Arele says this is because they were never
privileged to do anything with complete exertion. He says, always be aware
what a privilege it is to do something. You have to be completely given to
everything you do.

by  Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
Posted in: Personal Growth