Friday, March 7, 2014

Obligation vs Voluntary

One day, when *my sister was a teenager, she walked into *her room and noticed it was in a state of mild disaster. She decided right then that she will not make any plans that day until her room is spotless. 
A moment later, my mom passed by and, poking her head in she said to her, “what a pigsty! Please clean up your room immediately!” She replied in the negative and marched out of her room.

In just a split second, she went from feeling tremendous desire to tremendous defiancy and shoulder shrugging. What had changed?

 It had become an obligation.

When something goes from voluntary to obligatory, our level of desire and motivation completely changes.

*names and places have been changed to protect the innocent. #cough #itsjustphlegm

Many of the offerings described in Parshas Vayikra are completely voluntary in nature. If these mitzvot are so important, why isn't their performance obligatory, and if they aren't, for what purpose did God give them?

Human beings are pleasure-seekers. Most people seek pleasure in careers, vacations, cars, homes, shoes…and we tend to grumble about obligations as unpleasant aggravations. We don´t like to be tied down to responsibility.

The Sages say: "Greater is someone who does a good deed by being commanded, than one who does so voluntarily." Why? Because when we're obligated, our desire for independence makes us resistant. It activates the yetzer hara. So if we can overcome that to perform the good deed, then we're a bigger person because of it.

God made certain mitzvot optional, because if they were obligatory, performing them would not be accompanied by the same sense of donating one's time and energy for the sake of God and would not produce the same result.

The mitzvah of bringing sacrifices is discussed in such great detail, signifying their importance, and yet they are only voluntary. 
 This has taught me two important lessons.

The first thing I realized is that I will not be inviting any animal rights activists for Shabbos.

And the second lesson is the importance of changing my perspective on obligations. Obligations can be and should be pleasurable and fulfilling. They actualize our potential. They are the basis of our self esteem.

It may be difficult to fulfill obligations, but there's tremendous pleasure in accomplishing what has to get done. It´s energizing.

Think of an example of the tiniest amount of pleasure you get from fulfilling a seemingly insignificant obligation. Like, returning the extra five dollars to the store after they miscalculated your change. You leave the store with your head held so high, you almost end up in a back bend. Now try to imagine the feeling involved in fulfilling a much greater obligation!

What determines whether we view obligations as a cause for distress, or as a delight?

Whether we view ourselves primarily as a "body" or as a "soul."

Bodies do not like obligations, because they require effort. The body would rather be on vacation. The body wants to sit on the couch all day, eating potato chips and watching Seinfeld reruns.

Souls thrive on obligations. It gives a sense of importance, dignity, eternity.

We need to figure out what's really important in life. When we have that clarity, then we're willing to ignore the body's complaints and listen to the yearnings of the soul.

That's when we will identify with the soul's desire to fulfill obligations and feel the satisfaction and fulfillment it brings.

I will now go finish voluntarily cooking for my obligation of Shabbos, before all my food becomes a burnt offering.

Have a beautiful Shabbos!