People take different approaches to performing Mitzvot. Some are arduous about it, trying hard to perform every Mitzvah as best they can. It’s a good thing to be zealous to do a Mitzvah. In my younger years, I tried to do as many mitzvot as I could, not just the commanded ones, but the good deeds that seemed to present themselves throughout the day. I guess my Boy Scout training did have its influence on me after all.
Some people misunderstand doing mitzvot to be a means of working one’s way to heaven. Mitzvot may keep you occupied on the way to heaven, but they are certainly not what gets anyone there. Judaism does not teach that one buys their way into God’s presence with good deeds. Whatever works righteousness is, it isn’t Jewish. I was raised with the teaching that performing a Mitzvah contributes to rebuilding the world; that in some mystical way, mitzvot manifest holiness in a secular environment; transforming what is common and secular into something holy, if not in the world, at least, in us. I genuinely believe this. Performing a mitzvah is an opportunity to experience the holy.
As I have gotten older, I still love to perform mitzvot, but I have to confess that I haven’t been running to do them as zealously as I did when I was younger. I guess I have gotten comfortable with my practices. Some might call it getting lazy. I call it becoming more relaxed with myself. I enjoy making Shabbat at my home. It’s not a lazy mitzvah. It involves shopping, cleaning, setting a table, cooking, and making everyone around me crazy until guests come and we enter His rest. I love performing this mitzvah because we literally turn Friday night into Shabbat, at least in my house. When we don’t do Shabbat, it’s just Friday night. Doing Shabbat is transforming.
The reason I don’t do every mitzvah with the same vigor is energy. If I were to do every mitzvah with the same energy I do Shabbat in my home, I would burn out fast. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that a person should choose one mitzvah as his special mitzvah, that he performs with diligence. All other mitzvot should be done as best we can. This means that some mitzvot get less attention than others, and some to be honest, don’t get done at all. If I was trying to work my way into heaven, I guess I wouldn’t be doing so well. But that is not what I’m doing, so it’s not a problem. When I don’t get to certain mitzvot, it’s not so much a falling short as it is the loss of an opportunity. I had the opportunity to transform a moment by doing a mitzvah, and I let it pass.
Our lives are bound by time. If I use that time doing mitzvot, I have transformed that time in my life to something that is good and holy. If I don’t do mitzvot, the time was not redeemed. In this sense our lives are composed of time that is either occupied with what is secular or what is holy. When I don’t do mitzvot, my life is secular. When I do mitzvot, it is holy. How many opportunities will I take advantage of and how many will I let go by? Thats life!