On Friday, August 23, 2019, our Community Engagement Director Paige Mandelman shared these words of Torah with our community at Underground Shabbat:
Shabbat Shalom! I would like to share with you what stood out to me while reading this week’s torah portion. When you have an opportunity to do a mitzvah, see it through. You may be surprised at the rich rewards you will reap.
The rabbis learn this from a close reading of our Torah Portion - Eikev. Moses recounts God’s command that “you shall faithfully observe every commandment (kol ha-mitzvah) which I command to you today, that you may live and increase and be able to possess the land that the Holy One promised on oath to your ancestors.” Essentially, follow the commandments and Israel is yours to live and flourish in. What sticks out here is that the phrase kol ha-mitvah literally translates as “the entire commandment.” It begs the question why does the Torah go out of its way to say kol ha-mitzvah “the entire commandment” instead of kol ha-mitzvot which translates to “all the commandments?” The rabbi’s go on to say “whoever begins a mitzvah and afterward someone else comes and completes it, the mitzvah is credited to the one who completes it.” To take it a bit further, it’s better and more rewarding for everyone involved to complete a mitzvah then to start a bunch of small ones and not finish them.
It got me thinking of all the things I’ve started and never finished and me telling myself “oh well at least I tried.” Things like starting an art project such as this embroidery, starting a lengthy book, or starting to write a positive note home for a student but forgetting to give it. And then I thought to myself: but who would get to enjoy my art if it just stayed in my closet never complete, and would I miss an enlightening thought from this book if I stopped halfway through, and would I miss out on an opportunity to make a student feel appreciated and seen? The answers are all simply yes. And what did I gain from not completing these things other than a half hearted self-encouraging “well at least I tried” but also maybe a stronger inclination to start and not complete something in the future and each time being a little more okay with it.
Ive been aware for a while of this cycle of starting and not finishing things as a strong character flaw in myself, and it’s something I have been working hard on changing. To set myself on a path of seeing things through, I was determined to finish the hardest commitment I have made thus far in my life - Teach for America. Teaching...to spare you the details, it tested me time and time again on every level: emotionally, mentally, and physically. I saw fellow corps members quit after their first year, some a few months into their first year, and a few the summer before we even stepped foot into the classroom. I, too, thought about quitting and how easy it would be to do so. But what would I gain but another “well at least I tried?” So no, I was sticking this one through and giving my all while at it. Last May I completed my two year commitment and while I ultimately chose to leave the classroom (for now), I can comfortably say that the rewards from completing TFA were 100% worth it. I grew as a person in so many ways, made connections with students and fellow teachers and corps members that broadened my understanding of people and the world, and gained a greater sense of humility for whatever position I hold next and whatever work or social setting I find myself in. I have since gone on to put in the personal work to grow and continue to finish things that I start, no matter how big or small, and move away from the “oh well at least I tried” attitude to the “yes, I did it and I know I can do so much more!” attitude.
So, to conclude, I would like you all to take a minute and pick a mitzvah that you would like to see through this week, this month, or this year. It can be something as small as calling a parent to check-in (we all know they love to hear from us) or applying for a grad school program. Whatever it is for yourself, not only set an intention to complete it but also hold yourself accountable. Whether that be setting a calendar deadline for yourself or maybe finding an accountability partner to keep you on track, whatever you think you need to see it through, do it. Let's now take a minute to choose that mitzvah, set the intention and decide how to hold ourselves accountable.
And remember, when you have a chance to do a mitzvah, stay the course and see it through. You may be surprised at the rich rewards you will reap. Shabbat shalom.