This week’s Torah reading of Vayikra begins with discussing various sacrifices which one could bring voluntarily, without a specific circumstance obligating him to do so. Rabbi Ya’akov Yisroel Kanievsky ponders (in Birchas Peretz) why the Torah would have optional Mitzvos (commandments). If there is something which is crucial to one’s service of God, it should be obligatory, and if it’s not necessary, there should be no Mitzvah to do it.
To resolve this difficulty, Rabbi Kanievsky offers a remarkable insight: Volunteerism is an essential tool for one’s service of God. At times, it may be challenging to awaken our emotions to serve God out of love with the proper enthusiasm. Performing an act of service which we are not technically obligated to do has the power to be the catalyst in evoking love and excitement. This will spill over to other areas in our service of God. Therefore, the Torah grants us opportunities to fulfill Mitzvos without a specific obligation to do so. This enables us to get a boost in evoking more excitement in doing all Mitzvos.
While we may not be able to offer sacrifices nowadays, we can still take advantage of this empowering concept. Many times, we feel absolved from pursuing a deed. This could be in many different areas. At times, we might extend ourselves to help others and we feel we have fulfilled our duty. Yet sometimes, it’s possible to push ourselves just a little more. Perhaps there are times in which we feel too exhausted to attend a Torah class or study Torah on our own, but with a little extra effort, we can find the strength to do so. A person may ask us for a favor which we perceive to be unnecessary.
There are times in which we find it too difficult to concentrate properly in prayer and we feel we cannot be expected to do more. These are all opportunities to empower our motivation in serving God. When we feel absolved from doing any more, yet we volunteer to push ourselves beyond the call of duty, we awaken within our hearts an energizing feeling in serving God with more zest. Going the extra mile in doing a Mitzvah (with a positive attitude) provokes our inner emotions of love to our Creator to surface, and will influence our general motivation in performing other Mitzvos as well.
Mr. Y. decided to extend the Sabbath beyond the minimum required time. In the past, he rarely brought in the Sabbath earlier than right before sundown (the required time to begin observing Sabbath). Then, he heard about the great honor and benefit that was attributed to bringing in the Sabbath earlier on Friday. It was very challenging to do so, especially in the winter, but he was determined. The results were amazing. While he may not have always completed all that he wished to do, this new practice transformed his Sabbath. Instead of coming into Sabbath harried and worn out, he felt energized with an air of calmness. He found himself greeting Sabbath with more joy and enthusiasm. This small act spurred him to feel greater appreciation of Sabbath.
This is just one example of a small voluntary deed. Life is full of opportunities for volunteerism. We tend to think of these situations as isolated dilemmas: Should we extend ourselves further for a particular cause or not? However, the truth of the matter is that the ramifications can be much further reaching. Inspiring ourselves to jump ahead and do more than necessary, breeds more enthusiasm which will propel us further. A decision to take an extra step in observance of modesty can energize someone to connect more with God. Helping someone when it’s really difficult to do so, can give a boost to continue climbing upwards in building one’s character. There may not even be a direct connection between the voluntary act and the positive outcome. When we take advantage of an opportunity to go beyond the call of duty, out of feelings of generosity and goodwill in serving God, our hearts become filled naturally with inspiration to climb higher on the ladder of spiritual success.