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Here is why a Jew will do a Mitzvah

Friday, 7 February, 2020 - 1:36 pm


I always wondered how it is that a person can discover they are Jewish and minutes later be wrapping Tefillin and purchasing mezuzos for their home. This happens in the real world and fairly frequently.

Think of the Muslim family in Turkey who discovered their grandmother was a Jewish shtetl girl who fled the Holocaust and hid her identity, and a month later were sitting at a Seder table celebrating Pesach for the first time in their lives. (Watch their story here.) What’s the deal?

In this week’s parsha, one week after their miraculous redemption, the Israelites faced their greatest challenge as a nation. Their Egyptian masters were hot in pursuit and with the raging sea in front of them, there was no escape.

“Pharaoh drew near, and the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold! the Egyptians were advancing after them. They were very frightened, and the children of Israel cried out to the L-rd.”

It seems perfectly logical that the Israelites prayed to G-d to save them from the terrifying danger, but the Rebbe provides us with a novel insight to the story.

The Israelites had been promised by G-d that they will make it to the Promised Land. If they had complete trust in G-d and therefore confident that everything would work out for the best, why pray? And if they did not have perfect trust in G-d, and therefore felt threatened by the pursuing Egyptians, why waste time praying to G-d?

Rashi in his foundational interpretation explains that “they seized the art of their ancestors [i.e., they prayed].” Drawing on sources from the Book Genesis, Rashi proves that our forefathers did not only pray to G-d in times of need, rather it was a constant habit of theirs. Prayer was not a means to an end but an end for itself, an expression of their relationship with G-d. Praying was their craft and career and it became a familial trait for Jews to pray.

So when the Israelites found themselves trapped between the sea and the Egyptians, even though they were confident everything would be fine, they prayed nonetheless because praying was hereditary to them.

Exodus was the birth of our nation and every detail of the story teaches us something about ourselves as Jews. Torah study and Mitzvah observance are not only functionary elements of Jewish life; they are imbedded in our psyche as hereditary habits.

It is possible for a Jew to be unaware of these latent habits due to a host of external circumstances. But when afforded the opportunity to do a Mitzvah, the most uninitiated and estranged can quickly agree to do so because it is really more of a homecoming than a curiosity.

So the next time you encounter Jews who know nothing about Judaism or may even seem hostile, be sure to offer them a Mitzvah because it’s what comes most naturally to them.


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