Let me set the scene. I am sitting at my desk reading this week’s parasha, Acharei Mot. After an audible sigh, I grunt. “Ooofff!” I let out another, “ooofff.” I am reminded that the clergy team at Jeremiah love Leviticus and all that it has to teach us. Again, I let out an audible “ooooffff.” I have admitted to struggling with these parashiot and the constant barrage of rules that were written for a different day and age. How do we connect with drawing too close to the Eternal, the litany of rules for Aaron, who is preparing to enter the shrine within the tent of meeting and cleansing of sin? And who can forget the numerous rules dealing with incest that closes out this parasha? It’s a lot to digest.
I found myself landing on one line while reading through the parasha. “You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which human beings shall live” (Lev. 18:5). For some reason the title The Pursuit of Happyness landed in my head while reading this line. I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe it was the use of pursuit. Maybe there is something to the line that I should follow more deeply.
There is a wonderful commentary written by Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Horowitz in which he states, “When you do a mitzvah they should be done with life (that is, with a lot of energy and enthusiasm). This makes your whole being come alive.” There is no comparison between doing a mitzvah, feeling oppressed or forced to do so, as opposed to doing the mitzvah with joy and excitement. The life of a person who lives with joy is a life of pleasure and elevation – and one which motivates others. When they see how much enjoyment you have from doing good deeds, they will be motivated to emulate your behavior.
I want to share that while this past Sunday felt like the real first day of Spring and many took advantage of the weather, there was a small but mighty group packing nearly 100 boxes of meals for children who take advantage of reduced-fee meal programs in Highland Park. This was no easy feat! The foyer resembled the inside of any major food distributor. After the dust settled, we realized that we were 30 boxes short and the team worked even harder to get the packing done. This was a group of people performing a mitzvah and feeling so much joy from participating. And for those who didn’t come in on Sunday because of the other plans and getting over all the matzah from the past two nights, you also hopefully were able to participate in some mitzvot (and joy) while taking part in your seder traditions this past Shabbat. No matter what mitzvot you choose, be sure to do them with life!