A mitzvah is not just a good deed

"Why do I have to …? Why can't I …?" This is human nature, since adults also ask "Why?" "Why do we need to do this mitzvah? What is the meaning behind this tradition?" 

In this week's parsha, we meet Korach, a cousin of Moses and a recognized personality in his own right. Korach felt slighted when Moses didn't give him a leadership position in the Jewish nation, so he went on a campaign to sabotage Moses's credibility as a prophet of G‑d. 

The midrash tells us that Korach gathered 250 leaders and approached Moses, challenging the logic of his Torah teachings. "Does a house that has many Torah scrolls require a mezuzah?" Korach asked. 

Moses replied, "Yes, even such a house is required to have a mezuzah." 

Korach scoffed at the answer and again challenged the logic of the ruling. After all, a mezuzah contains only the first two paragraphs of the Shema, whereas a Torah scroll contains this and much more. If a little scroll with only two paragraphs of the Shema is sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah, certainly a Torah scroll should achieve the same mitzvah. 

What Korach failed to realize is that the Torah contains two kinds of laws. Some are between man and man, while others are between man and G‑d. 

Laws between man and man are logical: We understand the need for these commandments, such as not to kill. On the other hand, many mitzvot between man and G‑d are above logic, such as performing a brit milah (circumcision) and other rituals. 

In essence, even the mitzvot that make sense are observed for a deeper reason. 

To better understand this, we need to define the word mitzvah. Nine out of ten Jews will tell you that mitzvah means doing a good deed. 

In reality, there is much more to the word. The simple translation of mitzvah is commandment, but Chasidic teachings find a deeper meaning in the word. Mitzvah comes from the root word tzavta, which means connection. There are 613 mitzvot, and therefore, 613 ways to connect to G‑d. It's almost as if each mitzvah is a phone number with a direct dial to G‑d. 

Korach didn't realize that a mitzvah, even one he didn't understand, is a connection n a way to get closer to G‑d that transcends logic. We affix a mezuzah to our doorposts, not just because it makes sense to us, but because this is G‑d's wish. When we fulfill the request of G‑d, we are strengthening our bond with Him. 

Next time a mitzvah comes your way, make the connection! 

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg is the spiritual leader of Solon Chabad.