The Purpose of a Mitzvah
Our parashah is called “Tzav”, which is from the same root as the word “mitzvah.”
In this context, it is noteworthy to note that one of the most prevalent religious misconceptions of Jewish-Americans is that the word “mitzvah” means “a good deed.”
A mitzvah is not a good deed. A mitzvah is a spiritual and moral obligation. For example, it is not “a good deed” to refrain from eating pork, it is an obligation not to eat pork. Similarly, it is not a “good deed” to fast on Yom Kippur, it is an obligation.
So on the most immediate level, living Jewishly entails adhering to a set of Divinely prescribed spiritual and moral obligations. But on a deeper layer, a mitzvah goes even deeper than that. The word “mitzvah” in Hebrew is related to the word “tzavta”, which means “togetherness.” A mitzvah is a vessel to foster intimacy between a person and G-d, and between that person and other people.
For example, it is a mitzvah (obligation) to pray three times a day, but the underlying reason for that obligation is that the end result of praying thrice daily will be to further sensitize the soul to G-d’s presence in the world, thus connecting the person more to the Divine, and facilitating that spiritual intimacy between G-d and man, that binding, that state of “togetherness.”
Similarly, when I perform a mitzvah with or for another person, it creates a bonding experience, a state of “togetherness” with that person.
In a world of mostly instrumental and strategic business relationships, the Torah affords us with the lofty means to cultivate soulful relationships with G-d Almighty, and with fellow human beings. And that is the ultimate raison d’etre of the mitzvoth. Namely, to refine the soul, and to facilitate spiritual love and intimacy, to facilitate that sacred and pure bond of soulful “togetherness.”