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"Shalom Imma, I'm home!"
"Shalom, Chaim! How are you?"
"Hungry. What's for breakfast?"
"French toast and honey. Bi'teavon (have a good appetite). Chaim dear, may I ask you a personal question?"
"How did you get home from the Beit Kinesset so quickly? You left the house less than half an hour ago. How did you manage to walk there, pray all of the shacharis (morning) prayers and walk back in such a short time?"
"That's easy Imma. I began praying while I was walking. I got there in the middle of the service, and I prayed super-speed to catch up. I left before the end, and finished my prayers while I was walking home."
"How can you have kavannah (proper concentration) when you pray like that?"
"Oh, I did not have any kavannah, Imma."
Chaim's mother's face falls. She looks very sad.
"Oy vey. What a tragedy."
"What happened Imma?"
"Something horrible. A loss of life."
"Oh no. More bad news. I don't know if I can take it. Was it anybody that I know?"
"Was it one of our leaders?"
"No. It was not even a person."
"Oh no. Don't tell me. Do we have a dead animal in our back yard?"
"Are we infested with dead bugs in the cellar?"
"Thank G-d we're not."
"Please tell me Imma! I'm plotzing! What was the loss of live?"
"Chaim, a mitzvah just died."
"What do you mean, Imma? How can a mitzvah die? Was it ever alive?"
"Let me explain, Chaim dear. The Arizal compares a mitzvah to a person. Just as a person has a guf (body) and a neshama (soul), so too, a mitzvah has a guf and a neshama. The guf of the mitzvah is the deed - the actions required to perform the mitzvah. The neshama of the mitzvah is the kavannah. Therefore, a mitzvah performed without kavannah is like a guf without a neshama. And, as we all know, a body without a soul is dead. Therefore..."
"A mitzvah performed without kavannah is dead."
"Exactly, Chaim. The Arizal darshens this from a verse in this week's parasha. "All of the mitzvah which I command you today, guard it..." (Devarim 8:1). "The entire mitzvah, b'shelaymuso (in its completeness), with its kavannah and its life force...In order that you shall live." This is middah kineged middah (measure for measure). Just as you put life into your mitzvos, so too, I (Hashem) will enrich your life."
"With blessings in this world, and schar (reward) in the next world."
"I see what you mean, Imma. Kavannah changes the mitzvah from just a routine ritual into real live Avodas (Service to) Hashem. Let's begin eating, so I can make my blessings over the food with real kavannah."
"Here is your French toast, Chaim."
Chaim washes his hands, and makes the blessings with great kavannah.
"Boruch attah Ad-noi, El-heynu Melech haolam, hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz!"
Kinderlach . . .
There is nothing more beautiful than a vibrant, living mitzvah. A bracha said with full kavannah. A gift of charity given with a warm heart. Honor given to a parent with the utmost respect. Learning Torah with great effort and happiness. Praying with complete devotion. Settling a quarrel with your whole heart. Kinderlach, may all your mitzvos be full of life, and may they give you much reward and blessing.
"Chaim, you look so happy."
"I am happy, deep in my heart Avi."
"Wow! How did you achieve that, Chaim?"
"I had a challenging mitzvah to do today. It had many details, and took a lot of time and effort."
"How did it go?"
"I gave it my best effort, putting all of my strength into it and finished the mitzvah. I feel so fulfilled. I really accomplished something."
"You are living proof of the Ohr HaChaim's drasha on this week's parasha, Chaim."
"Really? What does he say, Avi?"
"The parasha begins with the word 'vi'hoya' (it will be). The Ohr HaChaim quotes the Medrash Vayikra Rabba (11:7), that darshens the word 'vi'hoya' to mean 'simcha' (happiness). Moshe Rabbeinu is telling us, in a very gentle way, that a person's heart is only happy when he does everything that Hashem commands him. When he puts his full effort into the Almighty's mitzvos, he is serving his Creator with all of his heart. This makes him truly happy."
"Just knowing that fact makes me feel happy."
"There is more. We see the same word 'vi'hoya' at the beginning of the second paragraph of Kriyas Shema (Devarim 11:13). It also refers to the simcha shel mitzvah (happiness that comes from doing a mitzvah properly). The Torah goes on to list all of the bracha that Hashem showers upon a person who serves Him with simcha. On the other hand, if a person feels lacking in this area because he did his mitzvos half-heartedly, his sense of happiness is empty."
"Does the Ohr HaChaim explain why?"
"Yes, Chaim. He darshens the word 'eikev' to mean 'at the end'. A person is happy when he does a mitzvah correctly because he knows that at the end of his days, he will not be embarrassed or punished when he stands before the King of Kings."
"That is wonderful, Avi. Does the Ohr HaChaim have other drashas?"
"Yes. The special mitzvah of Torah learning must be done b'simcha. There is an additional simcha that comes from learning Hashem's Torah. Knowing the great reward for this mitzvah brings a person tremendous simcha. The Zohar states that Hashem's greatest pleasure (so to speak) comes when Klal Yisrael is learning His Torah. When He is happy, the entire world rejoices."
"The word 'eikev' also refers to the heel - the lowest and most humble part of the body. When a person humbles himself, he will merit understanding the Torah's hidden secrets."
"May we all merit feeling true simcha from all of Hashem's mitzvos."
Kinderlach . . .
We recite Kriyas Shema twice each day. The second paragraph begins with the word "vi'hoya" which refers to simcha. Which simcha? The simcha that comes from putting your full effort into Hashem's mitzvos - especially Limud HaTorah (Torah learning). Every time you say Kriyas Shema kinderlach, remind yourself of the simcha shel mitzvah. Say Kriyas Shema with great simcha! Do all of your mitzvos with great simcha!
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