The first chapters this week's Torah portion, which begins the third Book of the Torah, Vayikra (Leviticus - 1:1-5:26); describe the offerings that Jews brought to the Sanctuary. It sums it all up with the statement: “Offer the best of everything to G‑d.” This phrase serves as the basis for a beautiful concept in Jewish teaching.
A building that serves as a synagogue or as a center of Jewish learning should be more beautiful than the personal homes of the community members. The furniture donated to a synagogue should be more comfortable and more luxurious than those in its members’ personal homes.
When we offer food to a starving poor person, the food should be of better quality than the food that we eat ourselves. The clothing donated to the poor should be nicer than those we wear ourselves.
A similar thought is expressed in a verse that the Jews sang when they crossed the Red Sea: “This is my G‑d, and I will do beautiful things for Him.” TheTalmud interprets this to mean that one should strive to acquire the most beautiful etrog and lulav, a beautiful sukkah, tallit and tefillin, a neatly writtenTorah scroll, and so on.
These verses convey a teaching that is contrary to contemporary practice. People tend to donate things only when they no longer need them. Old, rickety furniture and used clothing are the typical stuff for donations. The Torah, however, teaches us to do a mitzvah with heart and soul, utilizing our best energies and materials.
If we treat the poor with empathy, we would not give them things of lesser quality than we want for ourselves. But the Torah goes beyond that, and says that we should give the poor even better than what we ourselves have. This is because we put all our energy and resources into the things that we truly love. Tzedakah(charity) is a mitzvah, and when a person loves doing mitzvot, he will invest more in the mitzvah than in his ordinary needs.
A person who thinks of his religious obligations as a burden and nuisance will do the bare minimum that is required by Jewish law. Once he is “off the hook,” he will no longer exert any effort in doing more. But the Jew who appreciates how Judaism enriches his life with depth and meaning does mitzvot with love. And when a mitzvah is done out of love, it is done with care and beauty.
The extent of how much effort a person puts into mitzvot is a pretty good barometer to measure his attitude towards Judaism.
When given an opportunity to earn more dollars, few people will say, “Why bother? I can manage with the bare necessities.” Why would the spiritual quality of life be any less important? A Jew with a healthy attitude towards Judaism will “go the extra mile” and strive to do mitzvot in the very best way possible.
The mitzvah itself is only half its value. The same mitzvah that is done with a good attitude has double the value.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org – Rabbi Avrohom Altein)