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Just What Are Mehadrin Standards? Part I

Speaking of kashrus (What? You didn’t read last week’s piece?), I am quite often literally bombarded with shailos about hechsherim. What, ultimately, is the difference between them? Why do we need mehadrin hechsherim? (Actually, why do we need hechsherim at all? This will, bli neder, be a subject of another piece someday.)

What does a mehadrin hechsher imply? Are we making a statement that the non-mehadrin hechsherim are non-kosher? Isn’t the whole business of mehadrin hechsherim just a racket? After all, the other hechsherim are also given by rabbis. And how are people supposed to know how to choose which hechsher to “trust”? What does it mean not to “trust” a hechsher?

And Rabbi, it’s not just food! It’s my Tefillin! It’s the eiruv! They want to put a mehadrin hechsher on my bus! On my airplane seat! And the mikvah! I never heard of a mehadrin mikvah! A mikvah is either kosher or not, right? Should I feel guilty that I don’t go the mehadrin side of the mikvah? And what could it possibly mean? It’s all built together! Isn’t it all just politics? Isn’t it all just a power play for money, or for the prize of the frummest hechsher of the week? Isn’t this all really crazy, just trying to out-do the other fellow in chumros?

Well… maybe it is, sometimes. But quite often it’s not. Let’s see.

Let’s take an airline as an example, though the following could apply to any manufactured item that we buy (for which we used to peruse Consumer Reports — “Hey, isn’t this whole Consumer Reports thing a phony? A refrigerator’s a refrigerator, man, what’s the difference? I’m telling you, it’s all a racket!” Sound familiar?)

I am flying to the United States. I have to choose an airline. Obviously I would prefer to land in one piece, and so I certainly want an airline, and a plane, which is safe. How do I choose?

 Well, let’s say the government demands that the airlines maintain a certain minimum standard of safety (clearly not a libertarian government, but we’ll save that, too, for another day). Let’s say — I am making this up, now — the planes have to be inspected every second flight; the pilots must sleep eight out of every 36 hours and have two years of training and one year actual flying experience; the thousands of parts have to be grade A — not necessarily grade AA, certainly not grade AAA, but no B’s either.

Now, an airline comes along and says, you know, this will result in a fatal accident on one out of every 500 flights (this number is made up out of thin air). Common sense, experience, and statistics show that these parts will fail some of the time, and studies have put the number at one in 500. Now, the people on the other 499 flights do not care, because they got home safely, since the average standards were good enough for 499 flights. But think of those poor people on FLIGHT 500! The other 499 flights do not help them too much, do they? I know that if consumers out there knew the truth, they would be afraid to fly! Or they would picket the airlines demanding higher standards. They want the plane inspected after every single flight! They want pilots with three years training, and two years flying experience! And they want those thousands of parts to be Grade AA — after all, they are risking their lives every time they fly; Grade AA is stronger, more durable, will last longer, will withstand more stress.

Are we saying that people flying the other airline will crash and get killed? No, we are saying that there are higher standards which make sense, and will decrease the likelihood of a crash. Will it put the likelihood at zero? No, we can’t put it at zero, but we can put it at one every thousand flights. We’ll get parts with AA standards, pilots with three years training and two years experience. The pilots will be given eight out of 24 hours to sleep, we will check out the parts after every single flight… and we will advertise that we are a safer airline!

But wait a second. Won’t the flight cost more? Maybe much more? After all, the parts are more expensive, the pilots will demand a higher salary, we will need more pilots, and we will have to hire more people to service the plane after each flight!

Well, the answer is that we are offering what can be considered a safer flight, and we will see if there are people willing to pay that extra money for that peace of mind.

Besides, there are actually some aviation experts who feel that using only grade A parts is actually very dangerous, that they will not stand the stress of a transatlantic flight at all. And there are other aviation experts who hold that a pilot with only eight hours sleep every 36 hours will inevitably nod off.

And so a second airline opens.

And everyone is free to use whichever airline they prefer.

Then a third Airline opens. They call themselves “The Mehadrin Min Hamehadrin Airline.” They are going to be super-safe! They will have only grade AAA parts; they will of course check the plane thoroughly every flight; they will have a co-pilot, too, in case something happens to the pilot; they will not allow a pilot to fly two flights in a row without a full night’s sleep… and they will have a federal marshal on each flight to prevent hijackings. And they only hire from the top ten percent of Aviation School’s graduating class. This cost even more than Airline Two, but do you know what happens? It indeed acquires a customer base! You see, people are really really frightened about flying, but they do not always admit it. But their lives are so important to them, apparently, that they are willing to try to cover the risks as best as they can, even though they also know that you cannot really cover every eventuality.

Someone tries then to start a FOURTH Airline; this features an in-house doctor on board for every flight; a defibrillator; two federal marshals; and a co-pilot who is as qualified in every way as the pilot is. They also check the plane twice at each and every stopover. They also deal with the possibility that birds will get sucked into the engines (which happens, sometimes), and they have a very expensive mesh-like netting over all openings on the outside of the plane, which holds up under the extreme conditions of flight.

This airline flops. No one is interested in their services, and they are frightfully expensive.

Kashrus

As we experience once again the days of chometz u’matzah, we look back to Pesach and suddenly realize that we just experienced a seven-day period with a near obsession with food. ”Do we eat this?”  ”Can we trust this hechsher?” are just some of the questions we all ask, and that every rav hears, in the days and weeks leading up to and during Pesach. And, indeed, the Torah put the focus and emphasis of Pesach on… food ! Chometz and Matzah, around which Pesach revolves, is all about the form that that food staple will take. And thus so much of our commemoration and celebration of zman cheiruseinu is fixated on the food we bring into our kitchens, and into our mouths.

And, as we read the second half of last week’s sedra, we realize that so much of our daily lives is concentrated on making sure that the food that we eat is acceptablekosher.

How do we understand that? The meforshim explain that Hakodosh Baruch Hu, Who created food, knows that certain foods hamper our connection to ruchniyus and form blockages in our quest for holiness, purity, and spirituality. Thus it is vitally important to make sure that the food we eat is indeed kosherfor if not, then, besides violating Hashem’s will (which certainly should be reason enough to deter anyone ), we have created spiritual blockages, making it that much more difficult to rise above the animal in us. And that should frighten anyone enough to worry about the hechsherim we must rely on due to the structure of the world most of us occupy.

When reading these lines, you may be somewhat skeptical that food carries such power. How, exactly, does food nourish our spiritual side and have the potential to ruin it?

Instead of directly answering that question, I would like to address the skepticism which leads to it, and to all too often a diminishing concern that what we eat be religiously untainted, ignoring the severe damage that the wrong foods can cause.

Let’s face it: does the average person have any inkling of how food provides for the physical aspects of life? I submit that we do not! And if we did, we would be astonished! We might even start believing what we say in our tefillos: “And for your miracles which constantly surround us.”

Do we ever stop and think how the food we ingest becomes the very fabric of physical life itself? And once we absorb the physical miracle of how that happens, we will more easily realize that it is just as likely that food affects the spiritual as well. Here is a tiny bit of the vast complexity and miraculous reality that we know that food accomplishes:

When we eat foods, they are not in a form that the body can use as nourishment; they must be changed into smaller molecules before they can be absorbed into the blood and carried to cells throughout the body—which itself is a whole system of absolute miracles. Digestion is the process by which food and drink are broken down into their smallest parts so the body can use them to build and nourish cells and provide energy—life itself!

@Digestion

Digestion begins in the mouth, when you chew and swallow, and is completed in the small intestine. Food is pushed into the esophagus, which connects the throat with the stomach. The stomach has three tasks: it stores the swallowed food, relaxing the upper part to accept large volumes; it mixes up the food, liquid, and digestive juices  in the lower part; it slowly empties its contents into the small intestine. As the food dissolves into the digestive juices, the contents of the intestine are mixed and pushed forward. Finally, the digested nutrients are absorbed through the intestinal walls and transported throughout the body. Waste products are pushed into the colon, where they remain until the feces are expelled by a bowel movement.

Carbohydrates: The digestible carbohydrates, starch and sugar, are broken into simpler molecules by enzymes. Starch is digested first with enzymes in the saliva and pancreatic juice that breaks it into molecules; then an enzyme in the lining of the small intestine splits that into glucose molecules that can be absorbed into the blood. Glucose is carried through the bloodstream to the liver, where it is stored or used for energy. Sugars are digested in one step.

Protein: Giant protein molecules must be digested by enzymes before they can be used to build and repair body tissues. An enzyme in the stomach starts the digestion of protein. Then in the small intestine, several enzymes from the pancreatic juice and lining of the intestine complete the breakdown of protein molecules into small molecules called amino acids, which can be absorbed through the small intestine into the blood and then carried to all parts of the body to build cells.

Fats: Fat molecules are also a source of energy. The first step in digestion of a fat is to dissolve it into the watery content of the intestine. The acids produced by the liver dissolve fat into tiny droplets and allow enzymes to break the large fat molecules into smaller ones, including fatty acids and cholesterol. Other acids then combine with the fatty acids and cholesterol and move these molecules into the cells of the mucosa. Here, the small molecules are formed back into large ones, most of which pass into vessels, lymphatics, which carry the reformed fat to the veins of the chest, and the blood carries the fat to storage depots in different parts of the body.

@Vitamins and Minerals

Another vital part of food that is absorbed through the small intestine is vitamins.
Vitamin A: essential for good eyesight, normal growth, healthy cell structure and to increase appetite.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): helps break up carbohydrates, aids digestion and improves appetite and nervous system functioning; helps build alcohol-damaged nerve tissues.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): needed for healthy growth of skin, nails and hair.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin): essential for proper blood circulation and healthy functioning of the nervous system.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): helps prevent skin diseases and nerve problems, and helps maintain blood sugar levels and absorb protein and carbohydrate, and is essential in making of hemoglobin.
Vitamin B12: essential for normal development of red blood cells, formation of nerves, production of genetic composition in cells, and aids in effectively absorbing and using carbohydrates.

Vitamin C: boosts the immune defense system by protecting it from viruses and bacteria and healing wounds.

Vitamin D: needed for strong bones and teeth and proper absorption of calcium and phosphorus.
Vitamin E: essential for normal brain function and cellular structure and formation of red blood cells.
Vitamin K: extremely important, as it is needed for the clotting of blood by playing a role in the production of prothrombin.
Folic Acid or Folate: essential for production of red blood cells; generally prescribed for women in their first trimester to prevent birth defects, such as spina bifida, cleft palate or cleft lip.

Minerals: calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, phosphorus and others keep body fluids in proper composition, keep blood and bones in top form, maintain healthy nerve function, and regulate muscle tone and the cardiovascular system . Without minerals, vitamins lose much of their effectiveness.

This is a fraction of what goes on when we ingest and then digest. Do we understand “how” all this happens? In what way it all happens? The complexity, the stages, the method, the means, the outcome?

Surely we don’t…

Yet the purpose or writing this was to give a “sha’ar bechinah”-type, infinitesimal glimpse into Hashem’s universe. Should it then surprise us if the meforshim say that food is broken down into spiritual components, and that just as there is junk food out there, harmful in varying degrees, there is non-kosher spiritual junk food, harming our path to Hashem? That what we eat creates spiritual spheres as well as physical ones, giving us ruchniyus energy and metaphysical stamina?

Be careful of what you eat; it matters, for it becomes, in the final analysis—you.

Chametz, Matzah, and Rushing

Did you ever stop to think how it is that a food (i.e, chometz) that we partake of and enjoy all year round suddenly becomes forbidden to eat, forbidden to even benefit from, forbidden to exist in our homes and domains as ours, and forbidden for us to desire that it exist (even if it belongs to a non-Jew!)? (That last halacha is not so well-known—indeed, I fail to understand how kashrus agencies can allow a sale of chometz which is based on an open, obvious desire that the chometz be around after Pesach and the non-Jew not purchase it, such as bakeries’ frozen bread or pizza stores’ frozen pizza dough, who want to supply their customers immediately after Pesach, and do not want the non-Jew to actually buy it, even if paid for in full. But I digress.) And we are commanded to search it out and to destroy it! Nothing similar exists in the Torah, with the exception of avodah zara. And all for one week only!

On the esoteric level, we are told that chometz and se’or (sour dough which has become a leavening agent, although it itself is unfit to eat) represent the yetzer hora (see teshuvos Radvaz, 3:546; Kad Hakemach-Pesach; Abarbenel, Shmos 12:15). It represents puffed-up arrogance (Chinuch, mitzvah 117). It represents middas hadin (see Ramban Vayikra 23:17).

But on a basic pshat level, we read in the Torah, and say by the Seder when we are fulfilling the mitzvah of sipur Yetzi’as Mitzrayim, that lo hispik betzeikam lehachamitz—the Jews were chased out of Egypt, and had no time to tarry, to delay. And so they baked their dough before it had time to rise. And we commemorate Yetzi’as Mitzrayim by reliving that particular experience of lo hispik betzeikam.

On this night of asking questions, surely the following question must be asked: Granted that the Exodus itself is a worthy reason for the yom tov of Pesach. But why should such a seemingly trifle detail be the reason for one of the most severe prohibitions in the entire Torah? And result in no less than five direct mitzvos and prohibitions (i.e, not to eat; not to have; not to be seen; not to eat anything with chometz as an ingredient; to destroy)? And this is the name—and thus the essence—of the yom tov in the Torah—Chag Hamatzos! Because they were rushed out? And if they would have just plain… left?

This becomes more curious when you realize that this is precisely the entire difference between the coveted matzah and the despised chometz—the tarrying, the delaying in the baking process. We are exhorted, “U‘shemartem es hamatzosTake care in your baking of the matzos,” meaning speed up the process, making sure there’s no chance for the dough to rise. Speediness and lack of delay once again take center stage.

And even more curious, this becomes the foundation for the general principle that one not tarry in doing a mitzvah—al tikrei matzos elah mitzvos—mitzvah haba’ah leyadchah al tachamitzenah. Chazal declare as an imperative that when there’s a mitzvah to do, there’s no time to be lost! Go do it—immediately! And this is extrapolated from our care and concern with matzos! This certainly leads us to suspect that what is at stake here is more than 18 minutes.

The sefer Mesilas Yesharim delineates for us the rungs we must climb in our search for to spiritual growth. Perhaps surprisingly, he says that the most basic rung we must climb and overcome in order to move further ahead is zerizus, quickness and alacrity, the polar opposite of laziness and inertia. [He notes there that his first two rungs, zehirus, caution not to violate Hashem’s will, and zerizus, alacrity to do the positive mitzvos and to grow, are one and the same.]

The Mesilas Yesharim actually identifies three different types of laziness: that we are physically lazy, too lazy to get up, too lazy to go out to that learning seder or to that shiur, or to go help that neighbor, or to say hello; the laziness to try new things, to follow up on that burst of inspiration that we feel, the desire to daven better, to be better, to commit, to be responsible for our growth; and finally, the laziness to learn, to study, to clarify, to ask questions and find out the answers. We’d much rather, lazily, assume that we know all the answers already.

Without shedding ourselves of this innate laziness, without developing the middah of zerizus, we will never grow; we will never get past where we are presently holding, and we will inevitably slip and fall prey to all the excuses our yetzer hora is capable of convincing us of.

We know how we react when there is something looming in our lives about which we feel absolutely must occur, that it is unthinkable that it not happen. We have cleared all errands in days previous, we make sure that we filled up the car with gas the day before and go to sleep early the night before, we set two alarm clocks, we wake up early we check the traffic patterns every ten minutes, we go…

Well, is our spiritual growth any different? What is ultimately our purpose in this world? Do we clear away all obstacles, and practice zerizus, or do we sit back and get trapped by the 1,001 excuses that the Mesilas Yesharim himself describes to us?

We became avdei HaShem at yetzi’as Mitzrayim. It came about through a miraculous display of zerizus to leave the place of being avdei Par’oh, being rushed out of Mitzrayim. We remember that, and thus dedicate ourselves as avdei Hashem, by eating and exclusively having the symbol of that zerizus—matzah! And by totally destroying into oblivion its laziness, tarrying, counterpart—chametz.

And we thus extrapolate to all the mitzvos—do not delay! Don’t push off! Act now upon your inspiration, set in motion now the rungs for climbing that ladder! Make that game plan for growth now, and implement it immediately! Do not chas v’shalom let the chometz set in! No more chometz; only matzoh!

The Meaning of “Kur Habarzel”

And so we sit by the Seder and tell the story of how Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim. That’s terrific, wonderful, really nice.

But what do you answer Moshele or Sarale or Tamar or Shalom if they ask,”But Tatty, Abba, Mommy, Ima—I don’t get it. Didn’t Hashem put us in? What are we thanking Him for?”

Pretty good question, wouldn’t you say? Problem is—do we know what the answer is?

Hashem tells Avraham (Avram at the time) that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land (Bereishis 15:13). Even assuming that this was a necessary punishment to Avraham Avinu to compensate for some lack of perfection which might ultimately be negatively reflected in his descendants (see Gevuros Hashem at great length), can we really feel a sense of gratitude at a freedom from a slavery imposed by the Emancipator?

Hashem clearly wants us to recall the slavery as well as our Exodus. The Gemara tells us, “We start the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim with our degradation,” and, according to one opinion, that’s the avadim hayinu statement—that we were slaves in Egypt.

And, curiously, the Torah speaks also of a most beneficial effect of the slavery: it was a “kur habarzel”—a smelting furnace used to purify iron. This phrase is used in Devarim 4:20, in Melachim I 8:51, and in Yirmiyahu 11:4. Why is that true? In what way did it purify Bnei Yisroel? We are told that Bnei Yisroel worshipped avodah zara perhaps no less than the Egyptians by the end of their stay in Egypt, that they had sunk down to 49 levels of impurity. Is that the smelting furnace we speak of?

The meforshim speak of the slavery forcing in Bnei Yisroel into a refinement from a certain baseness that all human beings possess, animalistic tendencies and ta’avos, physical needs and. This is expressed in Malbim’s explanation of the kur habarzel concept, as well as in Kli Yakar on Shemos 13:16.

What’s the magic? How did the slavery in Egypt refine us? Was the slavery really spiritually beneficial, the way these meforshim make it sound?

One answer might be the idea as the Chovos Halevavos states in Sha’ar Habechinah, that a beneficial effect of pain (and a beneficial effect of infants and babies and children undergoing pain as they grow) is that pain curtails our ga’avah; we feel less arrogant, less entitled to what we see as our just due, making us appreciate the good in our lives. And it humbles us by clarifying that we are not the masters of our fate. These are the spiritual benefits of pain, he says. Perhaps we can extrapolate and apply that concept on a national level, to the national psyche of the Jewish people. A Nation humbled can produce a Nation of people interested in Hashem’s will, not their own self-gratification. Thus, the kur habarzel.

But I would suggest a deeper reason, a more fundamental one, one that takes us to the core essence of a Jew’s relationship with Hashem.

The Shlah Hakadosh writes, “Hakadosh Bauch Hu’s will was that that Bnei Yisroel, on a national level, undergo and internalize the experience of submissiveness, of servitude, so that their essence of avdei Hashem be easier for them to absorb… and that is why we find that Eretz Yisroel is still sometimes referred to as Eretz Canaan, as Canaan is from the root of keni’ah (submissiveness), as Canaan is the quintessential eved… “

(This actually allows us to better understand the halachic concept that chazal teach us, that the Yetzias Mitzrayim experience creates a situation where “You (Bnei Yisroel) are my servants, and no longer are servants to servants (e. g, to Pharoh).” Yes, we have substituted one slavery for another, but they are as different and as far from each other as North is from South, as Heaven is from Earth.)

The real meaning of the Shlah Hakadosh is reflected in understanding the very core of Klal Yisroel’s existence. Tanya writes that the seat of our animalistic tendencies is in the heart—the seat of our emotions, our ego, our sense of self. That I am the center of my existence, at the root and core of everything that I do. But the Jewish people—every Jew—must, and can, find it within him- or herself to rise above that. The seat of the nefesh Eloki, the spark of G-d found within us, is in our seichel, our understanding, which is our ability to perceive and relate to things outside of ourselves—beyond my sense of self—i.e., Hashem; that the root and core of our existence is, at its most basic level, geared towards ratzon Hashem—the will of Hashem. The Jew represents a creation whose raison d’être—very purpose of existence—is doing the will of Hashem.

But for that to happen, for that unnatural existence to exist —and it is unnatural for a living organism with an ego and sense of self to dedicate its very existence to a Higher Being, and totally self-negate—a kur habarzel had to be undergone to purify and refine the very crux of one’s reality. And that is precisely what slavery does. For a slave indeed lives for its master. A slave’s essence is to do the will of whoever owns it. A slave lives with total self-negation.

And Hakadosh Bauch Hu says to Avraham Avinu: Your children, who will become a Nation dedicated to my existence, whose very existence will indeed be bound up with Mine, will first undergo centuries of slavery, so that, embedded in the very nub of their selves will be a self-negation, enabling the ultimate self-negation, the Jewish Nation.

And so the Jewish Nation came into being at Yetzias Mitzrayim. After searing into the National consciousness the ability to self-negate, we were then taken out of Mitzrayim, freed from the servitude to Pharoh but retaining the ability to be avadim. Only now we would be avdei hashem.

Rabbosai, Ladies: Do we think of ourselves as truly avdei Hashem? Whose every move, action, and calculation has only the Master in mind? Whose only reason for existence is to do the will of Hashem?

If the answer is yes, or even if you are working towards that and would like to “get there,” then you are ready to celebrate and thank Hashem for our cheirus from Mitzrayim while acknowledging that it was all part of His Master Plan—shibud and cheirus. For that process seared into our souls the ability to be avadim, and then transferred that ability to His service. After all, we could have been like Canaan, who was cursed with eternal servitude and remains cursed to this day. We give thanks, celebrate Pesach, and joyously thank Hashem for giving us a Torah whereby we became “avadai heim asher hotzeisi osam mei’Eretz Mitzrayim”—which we now understand can, must, and should be done with full understanding of the irony that it was He who brought us there in the first place.

The Repetition of the Mishkan Commandments

There seems to be a consistent, curious phenomenon in the pesukim about the Mishkan. And that is a persistent seeming repetition—again, and again, and again…

Let’s start with Parshas Terumah, which teaches us about the klei hamishkan—Hashem commanding to Moshe Rabbeinu how the Mishkan should look, how its vessels should be made, and where they should be placed. And that is repeated in this week’s leining, in Parshas Vayakhel. (In other words, Shemos 25:1-40, 26:37, and 27:1-19 is pretty much retold in Shemos 35:4-35, 36:1- 38, 37:1-29, and 38:1-20.)

And Parshas Tetzaveh, the first part of which deals with the bigdei kehunah (Shemos 28:1-43), is reiterated in Parshas Pekudei (Shemos 39:2-32).

Did you notice that the second half of Parshas Tetzaveh, concerning the korbonos to be brought at the inauguration of the Mishkan (Shemos 29:1-37), is basically stated again in Vayikrah, Parshas Tzav, Vayikrah 8:1–36?

And what about the repetitions in Parshas Pekudei itself? Look at Shemos 40:1-16, and then go learn Shemos 40:17-33. Do you notice that the pesukim echo each other? Do we need a better specimen of recapitulation than the pesukim in Parshas Nasso telling how the nesi’im brought their korbanos during the first days of Nissan (which we are about to experience—the minhag cited by the Mishnah Berurah (429:8) concerning reading about the nesi’im the first days of Nissan, leading us into Pesach, is not as widespread, to say the least, as it used to be)? Now look at Bamidbar, Parshas Nasso, 7:12-17, 18-23, 24-29, and so on, until the last nassi is accounted for, in 7:78-83.

What in the world is going on? Every word, every letter in the Torah represents worlds and universes beyond our comprehension. Ramban writes that they are different permutations of Shem Hashem. And the Torah is usually extremely sparse in its descriptions, words, and pesukim. What is it that calls for this uncharacteristic, seemingly incomprehensible restatement after restatement after restatement?

A pattern that we see in the Terumah-Tetzaveh-VaYakhel-Pekudei recurrences is that Hashem issues a command, and instead of a simple “And Moshe, or B’nei Yisrael, did as Hashem commanded,” we get a complete rundown of exactly what was done, echoing the command, almost word for word, phrase for phrase, posuk for posuk. For what purpose?

Sefer Chovohs Halevavos, in Sha’ar Avodas Elokim, points out that while on the one hand the Torah’s mitzvos are made up of required ritual, our main avodas Hashem is to be found in the lev—in our hearts, minds, and souls. The point of Shabbos, for example, is not to mindlessly refrain from doing any melachah. That is of course essential. But to stop at that point misses the point! The value of a mitzvah is its soul, its lesson, the value that it teaches! What is Shabbos? Shabbos reminds us that there is a Creator (Who created the world, and ceased creating on Shabbos—luchos rishonos, Parshas Yisro). It reminds us that we should not be slaves to our work, that there is more to life than muddling through it (luchs achranos, in Parshas Va’eschannan). It reminds us of middas bitachon, how Hashem provides without our efforts, and thus is the provider even when our efforts are demanded [by Him] (parshas Hamon—Parshas Beshalach).The point of matzah, of tefillin, of mezuzah, is so much more than the obedience aspect of keeping the mitzvoss, essential as that is. The essence of these mitzvos is the bonding with Hashem, the bonding with our spiritual nature which they engender.

One of the points Chovos Halevavos makes when he expounds upon this point is how, although in the actual command there is a universalistic aspect (everyone must keep Shabbos; everyone must eat matzah, all men must wear tefiilin, everyone must have a mezuzah), your personal growth and benefit from the mitzvah is the degree to which you relate and understand what you are doing. How does this make me a better person? How does this make me a better Jew? How does this bring me closer to Hashem?

If you do not know, if you actually have no idea, if these words sound strange to you, if you are rolling your eyes in your head and wondering if you’ve stumbled onto a Breslover blogsite…..

Go learn! Learn Chinuch, learn Ramban, learn Hirsch, learn Maharal, learn any of the literally hundreds of sefarim that are out there, filling the shelves of so many sefarim store. Just make sure you pick ones that you will learn, and that will teach you what you want to know. Don’t sit there and wish that the mitzvos be would be more meaningful to you and your children—do something about it!

And that’s the lesson of the repetition. We are all a Mishkan Hashem. Our neshamos have the ability to contain spirituality. Hashem, though, can only tell us which actions can contain those forces. If “all” we do is— “…and they so did,” then we’d be missing the point, as the Chovos Halevavos writes throughout the sefer. The repetition in setting up and inaugurating the Mishkan teaches that we will extract from a Mishkan—or, with its absence, Torah and mitzvos—what we choose to put into it.