Is that a real mitzvah?

The man in this video is Scott Rogowsky. He has a twice a month live show in NYC, as well as a series of videos and each one has irony and humor and repetition. I think my friend Bennett Arron would have as much fun as Rogowsky if he had a video guy following him around all day. But the point of this is to discuss the idea of a mitzvah.

What is a mitzvah anyway? By definition, it's a commandment. But by practice, the word means 'the completion of a commandment', thus a religious activity which complies with something in the Jewish religion. So handing out food to homeless people is 'doing a mitzvah' or wrapping oneself with leather straps (tefillin) in the morning and praying certain prayers is fulfilling the commandment of doing so, thus 'performing a mitzvah.'

In the video below, according to Rogowsky, after 10 hours of walking in New York City as a Jew, during a Jewish holiday named Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), many Jewish men accosted him and tried to get him to 'do a mitzvah.' Of course, the whole thing is probably staged, but still the video got me thinking. Watch it first, and then I'll comment.


I've had Jewish religionists approach me in various locations worldwide, here in Sydney, and in Melbourne, in Moscow and in Israel, in Washington DC, and Baltimore...all asking me to do some religious activity and thus 'do a mitzvah.' One in Sydney even told me that he could help me put on the leather straps in 30 seconds and 'voila, that would be it.' Wow, a discount, a rapid fulfillment. One man I know told me that he was actually told he had become 'Bar Mitzvah' by some rabbi on the streets in Sydney, because he repeated some words he didn't understand, while donning a kippah (skull cap).

This is shocking on so many levels.

And the real question I have is 'is that a real mitzvah' anyway? If we say words we don't understand, and use props we don't regard as significant... if we jump through certain hoops of others' invention but it's not from our own heart, is that doing good? Is that honoring the God who wants us to do good things?

Yeshua taught about something like this with "When you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you and when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him" (Matthew 6.5-8)

I remember back in the 1970s when people in orange saffron robes would chant 'hare rama' and "hare krishna' and try to get others to say those same words. "Please, say 'hare krishna'" they would beg. As if my saying a phrase about which I was clueless and which had no meaning to me would somehow incant meaning and bring their deity to the moment. Those four syllables were just a combination of syllables which were empty and void to me. I get it-- they had great meaning to those robed people, but to me they were empty. Why would I ever repeat them?

There are people who want others to 'ask Jesus into your heart' and be saved. I've honestly never seen the phrase "ask Jesus into your heart' in the Bible, but I understand what these born-again evangelizers are asking of others. The more biblical phrase would be 'repent of your sins and be born again by the blood of Jesus.' But that might be too much for some people. So perhaps the evangelizers are trying to make the Gospel more marketable. Perhaps they are simply asking people to do what they themselves did those days/ months/ years ago. I really do not know what is working in their minds. But jumping through another's hoops of religion without the meaning and the conviction in your own heart... it will never work.

Perhaps that's why the apostle Paul said "if you confess with your mouth Yeshua as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." (Romans 10.9-10)

It really does take the heart. No wonder Solomon the king of Israel said, "Guard your heart, for out of it proceed the issues of life." (Proverbs 4.23) Paul again wrote something similar, "not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Messiah, doing the will of God from the heart." (Ephesians 6.6) That's the key in any and every mitzvah.

Will you take this to heart? That itself is a mitzvah!


Anonymous said…
Being a Gentile believer, I've heard the phrase about asking Jesus into your heart many times. What I think is meant by that is a reference to Him standing at the door and knocking on your heart.
Bob Mendelsohn said…
I understand your comment Anony. And I appreciate the quote from Rev. 3.20. But that's not written to unbelievers. It's written to the church in Laodicea. To believers!

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