Your child is drowning and a passerby man pulls her out of ocean, saving her life. After your daughter regains consciousness you have an opportunity to meet the man who saved her life. What would you say to him?
” Thanks, gotta run!” Or: ” If there is anything I can do for you… EVER… please call me. It would be my utmost pleasure.”
You don’t know what this man might ask for. Maybe he’d like you to give him a loan, help him get a job, or wash his car every week. Or he might even ask you to do something ridiculous like keeping the Ten Commandments! And although you’d think he was screwy, you’d have to consider his request. After all, without his intervention, your daughter would be history. You’d feel a tremendous need to pay this man back for the incredible gift of your child’s life.
God is the ultimate giver of life and all of its blessings. He saves us every day in ways we cannot fathom. If we could see the list of his interventions on our behalf, it would be mind-boggling. He does far more for us than the man who saved your daughter’s life. Not only did God give your child life in the first place, but He sent this man to restore her to you!
Step four of falling in love with God is about paying God back, and it is what makes the transcendental experience truly Jewish. In previous articles we’ve discussed internalizing the gratitude-attitude and having a sense of indebtedness. These emotions fuel a great desire to pay God back. We want to give Him something in return for all that He has given us.
The dilemma is that God doesn’t need anything from me. I can’t give anything to God because He is totally self-sufficient. But I want to repay Him for all His love to me. What can I do?
Judaism offers a unique solution to this spiritual dilemma. God doesn’t need anything from us, but is ” aware” of our great need to pay Him back. So God says, ” I can see how badly you want to do something for me. So I’ll give you 613 things you can do to show your love for me!”
If we truly love and appreciate God, we’ll say, “Only 613? That’s the least we can do for you given all that you’ve done for us.”
This is what the 613 commandments (mitzvot) are all about. We do the mitzvot in order to “repay” God for His great love to us. That is what Judaism calls “service of God.”
Whenever we do something for someone to whom we feel a great debt, we feel closer to that person. A mitzvah is a way to connect with God, by doing something that we believe is pleasing to God. In fact, the root of the word “mitzvah” means ” connection.”
The Psychology of Service
Let’s examine more closely the psychology of performing mitzvoth by looking at the example of keeping Shabbat. Although this mitzvah has many practical and psychological benefits, the real reason for keeping Shabbat is that it gives me an opportunity to pay God back. In one sense, it doesn’t matter why God requires particular details of the mitzvah, or whether I understand the reasoning behind it. I do it primarily because it gives me an opportunity to show God how much I appreciate all that He has done for me.
(Of course, an understanding of the reasoning behind the mitzvah can be a great motivator to increase one’s level of performance – particularly for someone new to the idea of mitzvah observance.)
Someone who is in a true “service mode” thinks about observance in the following way: “God has given me life and He has also given me the freedom to use my time any way I want. If God requests that I rest one day a week and not do what I normally do, isn’t this the least I can do for Him? I have six other days to do what I want. It is my pleasure and delight to ‘give one day back’ to God, if He so requests.”
This is the attitude of the true “servant of God.”
The mitzvot are the unique Jewish dimension for experiencing God. Judaism’s path to God tells us to take action! Through these actions we are able to make our experience of God concrete and grounded. King David talks about the power of connecting with God through the commandments, when he says, “Your commandments are more desirable than gold… sweeter than honey. Your servant is careful with them for in them is great reward.” (Psalms 19:10)
But the experience doesn’t end there. As we perform mitzvot, we discover that they are filled with many levels of meaning and wisdom. We discover that they aren beneficial, allowing us to become better people and strengthen us psychologically.
For example: I perform the commandment to “love your neighbor” because I want to please God. Then, through its fulfillment, I discover how it helps me to grow and become a much better human being. In other words, the mitzvah performance reveals that God has given me yet another kindness!
That realization makes my love for God grow even stronger, and now I want to do more and more to thank Him. And so the process continues until one becomes overwhelmed with feelings for love for God. As King Solomon said: “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.”
The commandment to love God is one of the six constant commandments. This means that we must constantly work on nurturing this appreciation. By focusing on these four steps, you have the tools you need to master this awesome experience of falling in love with God.