“Excuse me, are you Jewish?” the girl asked.
“That’s none of your business,” I snarled as I kept walking.
I have a vague memory of this exchange while I was at the University of Michigan in the early 1970’s. I know the school’s Chabad House existed then, so it’s entirely possible that someone actually approached me with this exact question. And my answer surely would have been an abrupt one.
I was definitely looking for G-d in college, but I was also very sure that the answer was not in Torah Judaism. As far as I could see, religion separated people; I wanted to learn how people were all the same.
A lot has changed in forty years. Now I’m the one stopping Jewish women on the street to ask if they want a brochure with Shabbos candle lighting times. But it’s really my partner, Mrs. Miriam Rosenblum, who motivates me to take her every Tuesday to sit in front of our local Giant Eagle supermarket. I figure, if she can go out on mivtzoim six days a week, I can at least take her on one of those days, which I’ve been doing for over ten years.
Mivtzoim literally means “campaigns” and in Chabad parlance, mivtzoim are the Rebbe’s campaigns to encourage Jews to do mitzvos.
When my kids were little, I offered to buy them treats, whatever they wanted, if they would come on mivtzoim with me. I didn’t care what they bought—those awful drinks that make your teeth turn blue—as long as they helped Mrs. Rosenblum get her paraphernalia in the car and handed out a brochure or two on the street. Now that my sons are over thirteen, they bring their Tefillin (also known as phylacteries, but I have yet to meet anyone who calls them that) so they can offer that mitzvah to Jewish men. Going on mivtzoim is fun for the whole family; sometimes I even bring along a grandchild.
Why does the Rebbe want us to take to the streets to encourage a Jew to do a mitzvah?
The answer is relatively straightforward: I don’t know. But that’s because I don’t know yet, in the sense that I don’t see what a mitzvah accomplishes in this world. But Chassidus teaches that the soul of every Jew is inextricably connected to G-d and when a Jew does a mitzvah, G-d’s Infinite light is revealed to all physicality involved in that mitzvah, especially that Jew.
(See what I mean about not seeing it yet?)
Whether or not we “see” it, this is pretty much the whole purpose of Creation: to reveal the G-dliness in our physical world by doing mitzvos.
And because the Rebbe could appreciate that Moshiach’s arrival is imminent, due to the G-dly light accumulated through the doing of mitzvos throughout the generations, he instituted many mivtzoyim—each mivtza strengthens a different mitzvah. (Why mivtza and mitzva have to sound alike I’m not sure—and I wish I knew why this G-dly light is so hard to experience and why Moshiach’s revelation process has taken so long.)
Here’s what I do know: whether we see it or not, one mitzvah has the power to “tip the scales” of light over darkness, within an individual Jew, and potentially, within all of Creation.
The power to reconcile this imperfect physical world and the perfect spiritual world is in the hands of every single Jew. Every mitzvah unlocks G-d’s infinite light, and somebody’s mitzvah is going to unlock the ultimate treasure chest.
I don’t know whose it will be or how soon, but I know it can’t be soon enough.