The Inside and Out of Mitzvoth
By Eliezer Cohen
What is a Mitzvah (divine command)? What gives it its worth?
I'll ask you a question. What do you think in the following case:
Let us suppose that there are two people. One is a young man in the USA and the second is another young fellow living in the time of the Soviet oppressed Russian governments.
The first young fellow's father buys this young lad a beautiful pair of tephilin (those black boxes that Jews wear on their heads and arms during weekday prayer service). These tephilin are very expensive and made by the finest craftsmen and skilled scribes. The only problem is that the boy has no interest or desire to put them on. He resists all logical argument. The father resorts to bribery; if the son puts on the tephilin, then the father will give him money. So every day the son comes to the father's office and puts on the tephilin in front of the father. This way the father knows that the son is putting on the tephilin. The father then gives the son his daily spending money.
Meanwhile over in the Jewish underground in the grips of the Soviet oppression, another young lad gets tephilin. He, however, must pay dearly for the tephilin. A large sum is demanded for the used pair, yet since tephilin are nearly impossible to purchase, the young man hires himself out for menial work to pay the exorbitant price. In the clandestine cellars, each morning he puts on the beloved tephilin, risking his life if he is discovered.
Yet, after time as we know, the Soviet Republic falls and times change. The two young men simultaneously met their ends and are taken to heaven for judgement.
The tephilin of the two young men are examined by the ministering angels. The American lad is found to have donned the most perfect pair of tefilin made. Unfortunately, his Soviet counterpart is not so lucky. His tephilin are opened up and found to be empty. He unknowingly purchased a pair of imitation tephilin. The angels declare his tephilin to be not tephilin!
Now my dear reader, before we continue we ask that you give us your answer. Who will heaven give reward to for the mitzvah (commandment) of tephilin? Who will get more reward? Who will get no reward?
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from the December 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine