Picture this: The day at work is almost over and, remembering that you need to pick up some groceries, you mention to your coworker that you’ll be stopping at Sprouts on the way home. Her ears perk up and she asks you for a favor. She’s been wanting to try out their new line of protein bars, and would love if you could pick up a couple of flavors for her. You happily agree, and deliver her goods the next morning.
The beauty of doing someone a favor is stepping out of your own world and into someone else’s. Did you want those protein bars yourself? Not quite. But that was what your friend asked for, and you willingly complied.
This simple, yet profound, act is known as selflessness. It is the ability to go above oneself for another.
This idea plays a big role in Judaism. It even answers some major questions, such as: Why should I eat matzah on Pesach night? What is the significance of lighting the Shabbat candles? Is there any difference if I have a mezuzah on my doorpost? Why marry Jewish?
The answer is that these are G-d’s needs. Doing them is actually doing a favor for the creator of the world.
The mitzvot in the Torah are an expression of the Divine will. After all, if G-d didn’t care about these things, then why would He tell us to do them? He has a desire that we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, so when you hear the shofar’s blast, you have satisfied His needs.
What about mitzvot like giving charity, or being kind to one another? These hold a deeper significance than you might think. Your kindness is twofold. Of course, it benefits the recipient. But it benefits G-d as well. He asked us, through his mitzvot, to give charity and to be kind to each other.
Lots of mitzvot that we perform have many benefits. Keeping Shabbat, for example, is a wonderful opportunity for family time, or for unplugging from the world for one day a week. We refine our character, keep beautiful traditions alive, and earn blessings and rewards for ourselves when we do mitzvot. But these are extras, fringe benefits. The reason behind performing a mitzvah, be it eating kosher or wrapping tefillin, is that this is what G-d wants us to do. It is beyond yourself. It’s selflessness. And that is true beauty.