The Reward of a Mitzvah

The Reward of a Mitzvah
A Translation of a Teaching from the Leshem[1]
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

שכר מצווה מצווה
The reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah. [Avot 4:2]

This simple maxim is interpreted several ways: 1) The reward of a mitzvah is the simple fact that you had the opportunity to perform it and to please G-d in that way, or 2) The reward of a mitzvah is that Providence will provide an opportunity for you to do another (reward-worthy) deed. The Leshem, however, interprets this adage in a novel way.  He explains that the reward of the mitzvah (which we will only enjoy in the reward phase of history i.e. our messianic and post messianic times), that is really the mitzvah.  The action we do, that defines the mitzvah down here on the earthly plane, is just its shell (its klipah), that will be shed, along with the rest of the klipot (aka opacities) as we proceed on our cosmic journey through the rarified realms of olam haba (the world to come).[2]

ועכ”פ הוא כי התורה הנה היא הפנימית דכל העולמות כולם ומתלבשת בכל עולם לפי מציאות העולם ומתגלית בכ”א לפי גילוייו השייך אליו כנודע כ”ז

The rabbis inform us that “HaShem looked into the Torah and created the world.”[3] Obviously there was no scroll of ink on parchment at that pre-historic time.  And really, also obviously, there was (and still is) nothing outside of G-d.[4] The Zohar is teaching that HaShem (so to speak) looked into Him/Her/Itself and articulated a will for a creation that would revel in the glory of G-d.[5] That vision and all the myriad ways it could materialize and all the laws that define its parameters…that is the primordial Torah.

It is the inner core of reality, enclothing itself in whatever constitutes the “stuff” of each world. On the physical plane it manifests as halacha (behavioral guides).  On the emotional plane it manifests as a warm heart and wholesome emotions. On the mental plane it manifests as a discerning mind that always picks the most spiritually productive option.  On the spiritual plane it manifests as unselfconscious devekut.

This primordial Torah reveals itself through the constituents that are available on each plane of reality.

As below so above.  Just like in our electromagnetic spectrum there is a band of wavelengths that we call radio waves, and another band that manifests as microwaves and then a band of infrared heat, followed by visible light, and then x-rays, etc. Similarly there is a spectrum of consciousness that operates on the inner planes. From below to above there is the band of vibration that manifests as materiality (asiya) and then one that expresses as the psychic/emotional plane (yetzira), followed by thought forms (briyah) and finally pure Divinity (atzilut).

שבכל העולמות שלמעלה הוה כל התורה והמצוה בבחי’ נועם וזיו דאור של מעלה והוא המזון דהנפש והעונג והעדן שלה שהוא הנאתה היותר אפשרי ולכן לא נופל עליה שום לשון עול ושיעבוד על העוסק בה והמקיים אותה כי היא רק הקבלת שכר בעצמה

A mitzvah is an explicit statement of Divine will.  The Cosmic Mind conveys His/Her/Its clear desire: “I want you to do this…I don’t want you to do that.” The command also specifies a particular action in this world. For example: inhabiting a temporary dwelling with a leaky roof for seven days on sukkot, or reciting the tale of our Exodus from Egypt on Pesach.  The body becomes the focus (to some extent) of the mitzvah since its movements are the necessary means by which the request can be fulfilled.  Thus the command spans from the highest height to the lowest depth.  It emanates from the transcendent will of the Creator, beyond human initiative, and it specifies in detail the physical gestures and material accessories required for its satisfaction.

At the moment of performing a mitzvah, every level of a person from the tip of his/her soul to the heels of his feet are completely submitted to G‑d’s will, and are permanently altered by that experience. HaShem requested the body to perform this particular task, so in the moment of fulfillment the body becomes nothing but an instrument of Divine will, a limb, so to speak, of the Creator.[6]

A mitzvah appears as a physical action to our fleshy eyes, but our soul experiences something different. Kabbala identifies five levels of soul that serve as a kind of golden thread connecting us up to our root in the pure simple oneness of G-d. When our body performs a mitzvah a circuit closes and a burst of light shoots down that golden thread and rejoices the soul.  On the inner planes, a mitzvah is experienced as a blissful infusion of radiant consciousness that is food to the soul. Just as each food releases a unique savor, so (on the non-physical planes) does each mitzvah transmit its own particular zest.  This delight and exultation is like none other. It is totally different from the mitzvot as they are experienced on the physical plane where the language of “yoke” and “servitude” apply. Here, on the inner planes there is no labor.  The reward of the mitzvah IS the mitzvah.

והרי נמצא כי בין אם נאמר שמצות בטילות לעתיד לבוא ובין אם נאמר שאינם בטילות שניהם הוא דבר אחד כי העול והשיעבוד שבהם  [ר”ל לעשות אותם רק לקיים רצונו בלי הרגש הנאה מהזיו והנועם שבה ע”ד שאנו עושים עתה[ הם בטילות אך מציאותם וקיומם הם אינם בטילות ח”ו כי הם עצמם החיים הנצחי וכל טוב הצפון והם בכל עולם ועולם לפי מציאותו ונושאיו וענייניו וכנז

There is a debate within the tradition about whether we will eventually outgrow the mitzvot. The discussion revolves around a remark in the Talmud that seems to suggest that such a scenario is plausible:

“This implies that the mitzvot will be canceled in the future era” [TB Nida 61b].
זאת אומרת ־ מצות בטלות לעתיד לבא

The Leshem explains that, really, both positions are true: The mitzvot are eternal and will never be nullified, but the form they assume will be so different from our present conception of them that it’s also true to say that the mitzvot as we know them will definitely cease. The yoke of obligation and the breaking of our will to fulfill G-d’s demands…the fact that we often feel no delight in their performance and have scant awareness of the inner lights (and sweet consciousness) evoked by their doings…those aspects of the mitzvot will cease. But the mitzvot themselves, the essence of them, is the eternal life-juice that circulates through the core of creation transmitting Hashem’s will for each creature to exist. This is the Primordial Torah which is pure consciousness and pure delight. It manifests these at whatever frequency is suitable to the band on the spectrum that marks each world.

והרי לנו עכ”פ כי כל התורה כולה וכל המצות כולם בכל פרטיהם ודקדוקיהם הנה הם נצחיית והם בכל עולם ועולם לפי המציאיית שבו. ובכל עולם היותר עליון עומדת שם ביותר ע”פ קבלת שכר שבה ובכל עולם היותר תחתון עומדת שם ביותר ע”פ בחי’ העבודה לשם קיום רצונו ית”ש. וישנם כמה עולמות אשר היא משתמשת שם בשניהם יחד

Bottom line is that the Torah altogether, and its mitzvot in particular (including all the myriad details specified in their performance) are eternal, and translate themselves into whatever medium of expression applies to each point on the continuum of consciousness. The higher the world the more it manifests in its reward mode (ie. as the particular flavor of consciousness that is its unique essence.) The lower the world the more it manifests as labor and obeisance to HaShem’s will. Short of Atzilut there is always some combination of both.

There are many ways to do our part to bring mashiach, now! There is Torah study, and mitzvah-observance, and insistent prayer, and charitable deeds, and peace-making, and nation-building, and educating, and meditating, and hitbodedut, and family-building, and musar, and teshuva, and philanthropy, and inner-work, and body-work, and all the things we do to make our world more enlightened and mashiach-friendly. And now here’s another. The more we can learn to take pleasure from good, to tune into the essence of our mitzvot—to the zap of devekut which is their “reward” and that occurs even now on the inner planes—the more we bring mashiach consciousness out of the future and into the present.

Our current global quarantine, and the slower pace it brings, enables us to take an extra moment (when performing a mitzvah) to listen in and try to catch a glimpse of the sweetness that lies just beyond our visual field….and then to savor it, for a breath or two. The more our taste-buds attune to these subtle delights, the more we draw the reward phase of history (ie mashiach) into revelation, NOW.


[1] R. Shlomo Elyashuv (Leshem), HaDrush Olam HaTohu (HDOH) 2:4:12:12; Sefer HaKlalim 18:10:3:12:2..
[2] The bolded passages are direct quotes from the Hebrew text above it.
[3] BR 3:5, 64:8; Zohar 2:161a.
[4] Reconati, Ta’amei HaMitzvot (Basal 1581) p.3a; Zohar 2:60a.
[5] Leshem, HDOH 2:5:1.
[6] Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 30.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Tali Ann Katz
    Reply

    Wow, that struck such a cord that traveled through the smile on my face to the inside of my very being.
    I was just speaking to my students today some of whom because of Zoom classes could be part of the Torah Shavuot that I gave over. , I shared with them to take a pasuk of Torah, or from the Siddur or Tehillim
    And meditate on it and feel it in your very being.
    Every one each has his or her own particular Mitzvah. Suddenly this Pandemic gave me the opportunity to form a daily Tehillim group of women from a group called Geula Girls and Ladies that Learn.
    I chant some of the Psalms and we recite specific for healing that I became when Eli Beer entered the hospital here with CoVid 19. Boruch he is home again.
    The Pandemic brought to our knees but only Hashem
    Brought into the Wilderness and Torah is flowing in
    An endless stream it’s such a paradoxical moment. The curse has also brought us Blessings.
    Will we Truly refine ourselves?, will our weeping turn to dancing? will we break down the walls that divide us and say Hineini with one voice?

  • Rus Devorah
    Reply

    Thanks 🙏🏻
    Gut Shabbos 💐

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