It’s almost twenty years that I have been going out with Mrs. Miriam Rosenblum “on mivtzoyim.” Tuesday is my day to pick her up, along with her wooden chair, Jewish brochures, and trusty poster board, to take to the streets. Well, not exactly. We have a regular spot on Pittsburgh’s Murray Avenue for mivtzoyim (“campaigns”), the Rebbe’s initiative to encourage Jews and non-Jews to do mitzvos. (Mivtza and mitzvah sound similar, but the first is a campaign, the second is a commandment.) No two Tuesdays are the same: We sometimes meet a woman interested in lighting Shabbos candles, we occasionally meet someone interested in comparative religions, almost always we strengthen each other with Torah’s wisdom.
Last Tuesday morning, I realized it was my two Texas granddaughters’ last day in town and I hadn’t taken them on mivtzoyim since they came. I decided to pick them up at camp, along with another granddaughter, and take all three girls. If I just stayed focused on the goal–making sure they enjoyed themselves—it would be worth the effort.
This turned out to be harder than I thought. For starters, I wasn’t prepared for the day’s heat. My car is too small for them to fit all three comfortably, especially with their backpacks, wet towels and a cup full of dirt waiting for something to grow out of it. Then there were the usual “I have to go to the bathroom/Didn’t you just go to the bathroom?” exchanges. The fun seemed almost irretrievable when I realized my parking app was still locked and I had only one quarter; I would have ten minutes to race through the supermarket for the few groceries I needed (plus tend to questionable bathroom needs). But that wasn’t the worst part. I would have to rush through buying The Treats. And when it came to mivtzoyim, my rule was ironclad: you come, you get a treat.
I never extolled the virtues of Pepsi like I did when I saw those three cold bottles. I told the girls how much fun our Pepsi party was going to be as soon as we got home. (Outside, the only sane place to have a Pepsi party with three kids under five.)
Why is it so important to me to take kids on mivtzoyim and make sure they enjoy it? Because if they enjoy it they’ll come, and eventually they’ll be comfortable asking people to do a mitzvah. (It turns out that shyness has rarely been an issue in our family.) I recognized the importance of children enjoying doing all things Jewish, and the need for me to participate happily with them. My opportunities were limited, mostly because I was learning right along with them. I couldn’t cuddle up to next them as I helped them with their Hebrew homework. I learned how to pray from them.
One thing I knew I could try to do was to show them how much I loved doing mitzvos. Which is exactly what I did.
I looked at it pragmatically: You have to do something with kids, why not mitzvos? When my children were young and I cooked for someone, I made sure they accompanied me on the delivery. If I went to do the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, visiting the sick, any kids who were asymptomatic came along, too. And just like I did with mivtzoyim treats, I tried to associate the mitzvah with pleasure, even if it’s only the pleasure of being together.
Did I have to fake that pleasure some of the time? Absolutely. But doing mitzvos is the foundation of Jewish life, even though it takes time before the uninitiated (regardless of age) can appreciate their significance. That’s why I tried as a mother, and now a grandmother, to make sure to associate them with pleasure.