The Value of Mitzvot, Revealed - Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Pirkei Avot from Shabbat Bereisheet, 1960 (5720) and Parshat Ki Tisa, 1953 (5713)
1 א
2ב

(א) רַבִּי אוֹמֵר, אֵיזוֹהִי דֶרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה שֶׁיָּבֹר לוֹ הָאָדָם, כֹּל שֶׁהִיא תִפְאֶרֶת לְעוֹשֶׂיהָ וְתִפְאֶרֶת לוֹ מִן הָאָדָם. וֶהֱוֵי זָהִיר בְּמִצְוָה קַלָּה כְבַחֲמוּרָה, שֶׁאֵין אַתָּה יוֹדֵעַ מַתַּן שְׂכָרָן שֶׁל מִצְוֹת. וֶהֱוֵי מְחַשֵּׁב הֶפְסֵד מִצְוָה כְּנֶגֶד שְׂכָרָהּ, וּשְׂכַר עֲבֵרָה כְנֶגֶד הֶפְסֵדָהּ. וְהִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים וְאִי אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה, דַּע מַה לְּמַעְלָה מִמְּךָ, עַיִן רוֹאָה וְאֹזֶן שׁוֹמַעַת, וְכָל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ בַסֵּפֶר נִכְתָּבִין:

(1) Rabbi [Yehuda haNasi] said: Which is the straight path that a person should choose for himself? Whichever [path] that is [itself] praiseworthy for the person adopting [it], And praiseworthy to him from [other] people. And be as careful with a light commandment as with a weighty one, for you do not know the reward given [for the fulfillment] of [the respective] commandments. Also, weigh the loss [that may be sustained through the fulfillment] of a commandment against the reward [that may be obtained] for [fulfilling] it. And [weigh] the gain [that may be obtained through the committing] of a transgression against the loss [that may be sustained] by [committing] it. Keep your eye on three things, and you will not come to sin: Know what is above you: An Eye that sees, and an Ear that hears, and all your deeds are written in a book.

3ג

Why doesn't Hashem tell us the rewards for the Mitzvot?

What is the attitude we should have towards doing Mitzvot?

Why list the punishments, but not tell us the rewards for Mitzvot?

What's the difference if Hashem tells us outright the reward or we infer it from the punishments? And if we know their differences because we inferred them, how do we not distinguish and choose one over the other?

4ד

(אח"כ אמר שצריך ליזהר במצוה שיחשב בה שהיא קלה כשמחת הרגל ולמידת לשון הקדש כמצוה שהתבאר לך חומרתה שהיא גדולה כמילה וציצית ושחיטת הפסח ושם סיבת זה שאין אתה יודע מתן שכרן של מצות ובאור זה הענין כאשר אומר והוא שהתורה כולה ממנה מצות עשה וממנה מצות לא תעשה. ואמנם מצות לא תעשה באר הכתוב העונש על כל אחת מהן מלבד המעט מהן וחייב על קצתם המיתות ועל קצתם הכרת ומיתה בידי שמים ומלקות וידענו מענשי מצות לא תעשה כלם מה מהם איסורם גדול ומה מהם למטה ממנו והם שמנה מדרגות. המדרגה הראשונה והיא הגדולה שבהם הם הדברים שחייבים עליהם סקילה. והמדרגה שלמטה הימנה מחויבי שרפה. והשלישית מחויבי הרג. והרביעית מחויבי חנק. והחמישית מחויבי כרת. והששית מחויבי מיתה בידי שמים. והשביעית מחויבי מלקות. והשמינית לאוין שאין לוקין עליהם ומאלו המדרגות נדע חומר העון וקלותו אבל מצות עשה לא התבאר שכר כל אחת מהן מה היא אצל השי"ת וכל זה כדי שלא נדע איזו מצוה צריך מאד לשמרה ואיזו מצוה למטה הימנה אבל צוה לעשות ענין פלוני ופלוני ולא הודיע שכר איזה משניהם יותר גדול אצל הש"י ומפני זה צריך להזהר עליהם כולם ומפני זה העיקר אמרו העוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה מבלתי הקשה בין המצות אשר הוא מתעסק בה ובין האחרת אשר תבצר ממנו ולזה ג"כ אמרו אין מעבירין על המצות ר"ל כשיזדמן לך מעשה מצוה לא תעבירהו ותניחהו לעשות מצוה אחרת ואח"כ אמר ואע"פ שלא התבאר שיעור חבוב מצוה על מצוה יש בהן צד הקשה והוא שכל מצות עשה שתמצא אותה שיתחייב העובר עליה עונש גדול דע שבעשייתה ג"כ שכר גדול המשל בו שהמילה וקרבן פסח ושביתה בשביעית ועשיית מעקה כל אלו מצות עשה אבל חיוב העושה מלאכה בשבת סקילה ואשר מבטל מילה או קרבן במועד חייב כרת והמשים דמים בביתו לאו והוא אמרו ולא תשים דמים בביתך ומזה תדע ששכר שביתה בשבת יותר גדול משכר מילה ושכר המילה יותר גדול אצל השי"ת משכר עשיית המעקה והוא ענין אמרו והוי מחשב הפסד מצוה כנגד שכרה

(And afterwards, he said that he needs to be careful with a commandment that he thinks is light - like rejoicing in the holiday, and study of the Holy Tongue - as with a commandment the great weightiness of which is clear to you - like circumcision and tsitsit (fringes) and slaughtering of the Pesach sacrifice. And there the reason for this is for you do not know the reward given [for the fulfillment] of [the respective] commandments. And the elucidation of this matter is as I will say. And it is that the entire Torah has positive commandments and negative commandments. It is true that Scripture elucidated the punishment of each negative commandment except for a few of them. And one is obligated the death penalties for some of them and excision and death at the hand of the Heavens and lashes for some of them. And we know from all of the punishments of the negative commandments which of the prohibitions are great and which ones of them are below them. And from these levels we can know what is the weightiness of a sin or its lightness. But what is the reward from God, may He be blessed, of each of the positive commandments is not elucidated.

And all of this is so that we do not know which commandment requires that we keep it much and which commandment is below it. Rather He commanded to do matter x and y and He did not make known the reward of which one of them is greater from God, may He be blessed. And because of this one needs to be careful about all of them.

And because of this principle, they said (Sukkah 25a), "One who is engaged in a commandment is exempt from [another] commandment," without comparing [the weight of] the commandment that he is involved into the other one from which he is refraining. And for this, they also said (Pesachim 64b et. al.), "We do not skip over commandments," meaning to say that when you chance upon the performance of a commandment, do not skip over it and leave it to do another commandment.

And afterwards he said that even though the [relative] desirability of each commandment is not elucidated, there is an angle of comparison. And that is that every positive commandment wherein you find that one who transgresses it is obligated a great punishment, know that there is also a great reward in doing [the commandment]. And the example of this is that circumcision, slaughtering the Pesach sacrifice, resting on the seventh [day] and the making of a parapet are all positive commandments. Yet the obligation of one who does work on Shabbat is stoning, but the one who refrains from circumcision or the sacrifice on the holiday is obligated [only] excision and the one who 'places blood in his house' (by refraining from setting up a parapet) violates a negative commandment [without a tangible punishment], and that is that which is stated (Deuteronomy 22:8), "do not place blood in your house." And from here you know that the reward of Shabbat is greater than the reward of circumcision and the reward of circumcision is greater with God, may He be blessed, than the reward of making a parapet.

5ה

There are two levels in which we view Mitzvot and their rewards: On one level, that they have varying levels of weight, and there fore their punishment and reward follows that scale; and in another aspect, in the eyes of Hashem, all Mitzvos are equal and therefore their reward or value is equal on that level.

6ו

(א) צוואת הריב"ש ע"ה. וסימנך הוי זהיר במצוה קלה כבחמורה פירש זהיר מלשון והמשכילים יזהירו. ר"ל הנשמה תזהיר ותאיר ממצוה קלה כבחמורה כי רחמנא ליבא בעי:

A person should always be careful with the Mitzvot that appear to be light as those that are more weighty, the word Zahir can be also be understood as shine, as it said "The wise shall shine". In other words, the Neshama will glow and shine from a light Mitzvah just like a weighty Mitzvah, since the merciful one wants our heart (sincerity).

7ז

Why do we need to do Mitzvot every day, without taking into account either quantity or quality of Mitzvot?

8ח

(ה) וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים וַה' בֵּרַךְ אֶת אַבְרָהָם בַּכֹּל. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה פָּתַח (תהלים סה) אַשְׁרֵי תִּבְחַר וּתְקָרֵב יִשְׁכֹּן חֲצֵרֶיךָ, הַאי קְרָא (צד ע''ב) אִתְּמָר, אֲבָל זַכָּאָה הוּא בַּר נָשׁ דְּאוֹרְחוֹי אִתְכַּשְׁרָן קַמֵּי קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא וְאִיהוּ אִתְרָעֵי בֵּיהּ לְקָרָבָא לֵיהּ לְגַבֵּיהּ.

(ו) תָּא חֲזֵי, אַבְרָהָם אִתְקְרִיב לְגַבֵּיהּ וְתִאוּבְתֵּיהּ דִּילֵיהּ הֲוָה כָּל יוֹמוֹי בְּהַאי, וְלָא אִתְקְרִיב אַבְרָהָם בְּיוֹמָא חָדָא אוֹ בְּזִמְנָא חָדָא, אֶלָּא עוֹבָדוֹי קְרִיבוּ לֵיהּ בְּכָל יוֹמוֹי מִדַּרְגָּא לְדַרְגָּא, עַד דְּאִסְתַּלַק בְּדַרְגּוֹי.

(ז) כַּד הֲוָה סִיב וְעָאל בְּדַרְגִּין עִלָּאִין כְּדְקָא חָזֵי דִּכְתִיב וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן, וּכְדֵין בָּא בַּיָּמִים בְּאִינוּן יוֹמִין עִלָּאִין בְּאִינוּן יוֹמִין יְדִיעָאן בְּרָזָא דִמְהֵימְנוּתָא.

"And Avraham was old, and he had come into days and Hashem blessed Avraham in all things." R' Yehudah discoursed on the verse, "Happy is the man who you choose and bring near, that he may dwell in your courts" This verse, he said, may be explained as follows. Happy is the man whose ways are found right before the Holy One and in whom He finds pleasure so as to bring him near to Himself. Observe how Avraham strove to come near to Hashem making Him the object of his longing the whole of his days. Not just one day, or just now and then - but by his works advancing day by day from level to level until he rose when he was old to the highest level proper to him. We read when Avraham was old, he came into days - he entered into the supernal days, the days familiar in the path of true faith....

9ט

There is a reward that comes from purifying the world. It is a limited reward because at that level, its limited to the constraints and dimensions of the Mitzvah. The greater the impact the Mitzvah has on the world spiritually, the greater the reward and vice versa. The reward correlates to the refinement the Mitzvah creates both in the person and in the world. The same thing is with sin, Chas v’shalom. When we break a Mitzvah, we impact the world spiritually in a negative way and remove some of the awareness of G-d.

The reward that comes on the level of the Mitzvot being G-d's Will, there is no distinction on that level because the reward is above and beyond any limitations. Sechar Mitzvah, Mitzvah means literally the reward for doing a Mitzvah is an increased connection to Hashem - the binding and bonding to Him (tzafta v’chibur). When you do His Will, you are actually downloading a part of Hashem Himself into yourself and the world.

10י

תניא פרק מ''א

הנה ה' נצב עליו, ומלוא כל הארץ כבודו, ומביט עליו ובוחן כליות ולב אם עובדו כראוי. ועל כן צריך לעבוד לפניו באימה וביראה כעומד לפני המלך. ויעמיק במחשבה זו ויאריך בה, כפי יכולת השגת מוחו ומחשבתו וכפי הפנאי שלו, לפני עסק התורה או המצוה, כמו לפני לבישת טלית ותפילין. וגם יתבונן איך שאור אין סוף ברוך הוא הסובב כל עלמין וממלא כל עלמין הוא רצון העליון, הוא מלובש באותיות וחכמת התורה, או בציצית ותפילין אלו; ובקריאתו או בלבישתו הוא ממשיך אורו יתברך עליו, דהיינו על חלק אלוק ממעל שבתוך גופו, ליכלל וליבטל באורו יתברך

Tanya, Chapter 41

He should also reflect how the light of the blessed En Sof, which encompasses all worlds and pervades all worlds, which is identical with the Higher Will, is clothed in the letters and wisdom of the Torah and in the tzitzit (Fringes) and the phylacteries, and through his study or donning these latter he draws over himself His blessed light, that is, over "The portion of G‑dliness from above'' which is within his body, that it may be absorbed and nullified in His blessed light.

11יא

To create a dwelling place for Hashem in this world, it has to be made receptive to receiving the infinite light. The Mitzvot we do purify the world, one piece, one person, one object at a time to make it into a place that can receive G-d's presence. And on that level, each Mitzvah -no matter how"light", is immeasurably important, because it has a particular corner of the world it is responsible for that will lead to the coming of Moshiach.

12 יב
13יג

וֶהֱוֵי מְחַשֵּׁב הֶפְסֵד מִצְוָה כְּנֶגֶד שְׂכָרָהּ, וּשְׂכַר עֲבֵרָה כְנֶגֶד הֶפְסֵדָהּ

Measure the loss that is incurred by the performance of the Mitzvah against its reward and the reward of the sin, against its loss

We contrast the spiritual gains of doing a Mitzvah against the temporary, fleeting loss that you might incur; and we contrast the lasting spiritual loss that a sin brings about, against the temporary, fleeting pleasure it brings you.

14יד

אגרת תשובה, פרק א

אבל לענין תשובה אף לו העונש על שמרד במלכותו יתברך, ולא עשה מאמר המלך מכל מקום האור נעדר וכו׳ וכמאמר רז״ל על פסוק: מעות לא יוכל לתקן, זה שביטל קריאת שמע של ערבית או וכו׳ דאף שנזהר מעתה לקרות קריאת שמע של ערבית ושחרית לעולם אין תשובתו מועלת לתקן מה שביטל פעם אחת

But concerning repentance, which would seek to rectify the transgression of a positive command, though through repentance the punishment for rebelling against G‑d’s rule and not fulfilling the King’s word is commuted, nonetheless, the illumination which would have been drawn down through the performance of the positive command is lacking — even after repentance, so that the sin remains only partially rectified.

For though he be scrupulous henceforth about reading the morning and evening Shema forevermore, thereby demonstrating his regret, his repentance is ineffectual in correcting what he once neglected.

For after all is said and done, the world will forever be lacking the unique gift of Divine light that he could have drawn down through reading the Shema on that particular occasion.

15טו

With a sin, you can do Teshuva and it will be wiped away. But not with a Mitzvah, who when we miss the opportunity, we have neglected to bring down the special light through the Mitzvah and that lack lasts forever.

Why is the missing out on a mitzvah that we could have done have a more adverse affect on the world than doing a sin?

16טז

ר' שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, אֵין לְךָ דָּבָר שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם שֶׁעוֹמֵד בִּפְנֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה כְּלַל.

Rabbi Shimon said: There is nothing that stands in front of Teshuva, at all.

17יז

This only applies to the level in which you did that mistake. But when you then ascend to a higher, more spiritually sensitive level, then the sin still is there in some trace and Teshuva is still needed, albeit on a more refined, abstract level. And because there are infinite levels we can achieve, in some ways, that trace of the sin will remain and we will need to Teshuva, again and again.

18יח

כִּֽי־פְ֭שָׁעַי אֲנִ֣י אֵדָ֑ע וְחַטָּאתִ֖י נֶגְדִּ֣י תָמִֽיד׃

for I recognize my transgressions, and am ever conscious of my sin.

19יט

אגרת תשובה, פרק י''א

מ"ש וחטאתי נגדי תמיד אין המכוון להיות תמיד עצב נבזה ח"ו דהא כתיב בתרי' תשמיעני ששון ושמחה וכו' ורוח נדיבה תסמכני וכו' ומשום שצ"ל כל ימיו בתשובה עילאה שהיא בשמחה רבה כנ"ל אלא נגדי דייקא כמו ואתה תתיצב מנגד מנגד סביב לאהל מועד יחנו ופרש"י מרחוק.

Igeret HaTeshuva, Chapter 11


As to the verse that says,“My sin is always before me,” this does not imply that one ought to be constantly melancholy and humiliated, G-d forbid,for later verses declare, “Let me hear gladness and joy….,”and“uphold me with a spirit of magnanimity….” moreover, “Throughout one' days one should experience teshuvah [ila'ah],” [a manner of repentance] that is marked by great joy, as noted above.

How, then, are we to understand that “my sin is always before me”?

Rather, [the term used for “before me” is] specifically negdi, which implies being opposite, but at a certain distance,as in the verse that says, “You shall stand at a distance (mineged)”; or: “at a distance (mineged) around the Tent of Assembly shall they camp.”Rashi defines the above term lit., “opposite” as “at a distance.”

Thus, one should always retain an awareness of his having sinned — but “at a distance,” i.e., at the back of his mind.

20כ

ר' אלעזר בר' שמעון אומר לפי שהעולם נידון אחר רובו והיחיד נידון אחר רובו עשה מצוה אחת אשריו שהכריע את עצמו ואת כל העולם לכף זכות

Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, says: Since the world is judged by its majority, i.e., depending on whether people have performed a majority of mitzvot or a majority of sins, and an individual is likewise judged by his majority, each person must consider that if he performs one mitzva he is praiseworthy, as he tilts the balance of himself and the entire world to the scale of merit.

21כא
תַּנְיָא אָמַר רִבִּי יוֹסֵי, בְּהַהוּא מַמָּשׁ דְּאִשְׁתְּכַח דִּינָא לְמִצְרָאֵי, בְּהַהוּא מַמָּשׁ אִשְׁתְּכַח רַחֲמֵי לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, הֲדָא הוּא דִּכְתִּיב, וְרָאִיתִי אֶת הַדָּם וּפָסַחְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם. וְכֵן תָּנָא, בְּכָל אִינּוּן כִּתְרִין קַדִּישִׁין דִּלְעֵילָּא, כְּמָה דְּאִשְׁתְּכַח דִּינָא, אִשְׁתְּכַח רַחֲמֵי, וְכֹלָּא בְּשַׁעֲתָא חֲדָא. תָּנָא רִבִּי חִזְקִיָּה, כְּתִיב, (ישעיה י''ט) וְנָגַף יְיָ' אֶת מִצְרַיִם נָגוֹף וְרָפֹא. נָגוֹף לְמִצְרַיִם, וְרָפֹא לְיִשְׂרָאֵל. מַאי וְרָפֹא. מִמַאי שֶׁנִּימוֹלוּ צְרִיכִים רְפוּאָה.