When life feels like a treadmill, and each of us just a face in the crowd, mitzvah observance may easily become rote, tedious, and redundant. How much, in the long run, do we really matter — or our adherence to faith?
The Avner Institute presents the Rebbe’s insights on the impact of ritual, which is subjective and dependent on the individual; and the wisdom of our Sages, who discretely knew what secrets of the Torah to reveal and what to conceal.
Greeting and Blessing:
I am in receipt of your letter. As requested, I will remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart’s desires for good in the matters of which you write.
Inasmuch as everything connected with Torah and mitzvoth at the level of daily conduct has to be on the increase, I trust that this is the case with you as well, for it is largely a matter of will and determination. As our Sages say (Megillah 6b): “Try hard and you will succeed.”
With regard to the various questions that you have on the topic of emunah, I would suggest that you read the Kuzari, which can be obtained in Hebrew and in English translation. It will give you new insights and clear up many of your questions.
Obviously it is difficult to discuss and explicate adequately such questions in a letter. But it is not really necessary to rely on correspondence, since you are able to discuss these matters with your Rosh Yeshiva or mashpia [advisor]. However, I will refer to one point here, although it has to be brief. The question is this: What difference can it make to G-d whether a person does or does not fulfill His commandments?
There are various analogies to assist us in explaining this question. Take, for example, such an ordinary thing as money, as when one makes a donation for tzedakah. It may well make a difference to the average person whether he gives one guilden or one hundred guilden, but to a multimillionaire neither amount is of any consequence. However, if this multimillionaire happens to be a man of profound knowledge and feeling, he will consider the amounts of one guilden or one hundred guilden, not in terms of his scale of values and their importance to him, the giver, but rather in terms of what they represent to the needy person receiving them. For this reason our Sages, of blessed memory, explained that sometimes a single pruta (the smallest denomination), for tzedakah in one particular case may be more significant than a huge sum in another (See Avot, 3:15. Tanya, Part IV, ch. 21).
In a somewhat similar manner, the Creator of man, Who knows and understands the difficulties that beset every individual, evaluates an action, not in terms of its significance to Him, but in terms of its significance to the person performing it. Inasmuch as G-d in His infinite kindness desires that his creations should have some connection with Him, He has given us a set of mitzvoth to help accomplish this. And in light of the above-mentioned analogy, the significance of the fulfillment of each mitzvah is judged by Him in human terms, according to the effort and dedication that each individual puts into it.
To make use of another example: If an individual accomplished something which brought about a change or revolution in the whole world, you would take it for granted that this would be something that G-d would “take notice of,” whereas you only seem to have difficulty with the idea that the act of putting on tefillin can matter to G-d. Yet the mitzvoth of tefillin, which are put on the left hand facing the heart, and on the head – the seat of the intellect – has the significance of uniting and harmonizing the heart and the mind of the person putting them on (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim, ch. 25) – and in terms of the individual, this may be taking place on a scale as critical and as significant to him as some earth-shattering event in relation to G-d.
Another of your questions referred to the fact that at a time when religious disputations with non-Jews were forced upon us, the Jews involved sometimes informed their non-Jewish adversaries that they were not obligated to explain all the sayings of our Sages, and you wonder what this might have meant.
The answer is this: You surely know that there is an issur [prohibition] against the teaching of certain aspects of the Torah to non-Jews. There were times when it was simply too dangerous to declare this openly, and it was felt necessary to find some other way to evade any question the response to which would entail a transgression of the said issur. Therefore the answer proffered was the assertion that there was no obligation on the Jewish representative to the disputation to explain all the sayings of our Sages.
The issur was particularly strict in connection with certain inner aspects of the Torah, so-called “secrets” of the Torah, many of which are hidden in various sayings of our Sages. Consequently, the Rabbis who were forced to participate in disputations were particularly careful not to reveal these secrets to their non-Jewish adversaries. You do not indicate in your letter what particular saying of our Sages you had in mind when you asked the above question; therefore it is difficult to go into specifics. But no doubt you will understand how the explanation applies to the particular saying that necessitated the evasive answer.
I would suggest that you have your tefillin checked, if they have not been checked with the past twelve months.
[the Rebbe’s signature]