cloud shaped as a heart

Emulate G-d’s example and don’t be frugal in fulfilling your religious obligations. Rather, show your devotion and follow His commandments with a full heart.

This week’s Torah portion is Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), and in it we read about the Jewish People’s escape from Egypt – the Exodus. After the Jews crossed the Red Sea, they sang a song of praise G-d for saving them from the Egyptian army.

Among the stanzas of the song is the verse: “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him…” The Talmud teaches us, based on this specific verse, that when we perform mitzvot (Torah commandments), we should do so in a beautiful manner, a concept known as Hiddur Mitzvah in Judaism. Among the examples cited is that we should not purchase merely any etrog (citron) for the holiday of Sukkot, but rather the most beautiful etrog we can afford. So, too, we should not purchase a cheap mezuzah or pair of tefillin (phylacteries), but must endeavor to purchase the best we can.

Don’t settle on the minimum requirements! This idea can be applied everywhere: Get yourself a beautiful Kiddush cup, challah cover, prayer book, etc. Its OK to spend a little extra money to perform mitzvot. Indeed, our sages advise us to consider spending a third more on mitzvah items than we ordinarily would have considered doing.

The question is asked: Why is it this particular verse in the Song of the Sea that is the source for performing mitzvot in a more-than-minimal manner? Couldn’t we have derived the concept from other events, such as at Mount Sinai?

Among the answers given is one based on a teaching of the Mishna (rabbinic literature), which  tells us that God performed 10 different miracles for the Jews at the Red Sea. Although we may have been under the impression that the miracle of the Red Sea was the splitting of the sea, this is not necessarily true. Among the miracles, for example: The sea water sheltered them from above; the sea bed was dry, not muddy; they had fruits available for them as they crossed the sea, and more.

Why did God do so many more miracles than needed? All that the Jews needed was the splitting of the sea in order to escape the Egyptian army. No one would have asked for anything more.

The answer is that God treated the Jewish people to a dose of Hiddur Mitzvah! God was telling the Jewish people that He wants to do for them more than the minimum; he wants to “beautify” and “enhance” the miracles He does for us!

Therefore, it is quite reasonable that we learn to perform mitzvot in a beautiful and enhanced manner from this episode! God treated us in a special, loving way, and therefore we should treat Him like that as well!

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.