Receive weekly insights from the Chief Rabbi
Office of the Chief Rabbi

Vayeishev: To be ‘shomer mitzvot’ does not mean to keep mitzvot!

Share this article:


To be ‘shomer mitzvot’ does not mean to keep mitzvot!

That is the surprising view of the Or HaChaim Hakadosh. If that’s the case, what does being ‘shomer mitzvot’ mean? The Or HaChaim explains that it means ‘to look forward to the performance of mitzvot.’ He derives this from a passuk that we’re all familiar with from our kiddush on shabbat:

Veshamru Bnei Yisrael et hashabbat la’asot et hashabbat,”

which we usually translate as,

“and the people of Israel shall keep the shabbat to perform the mitzvot of shabbat.”

The Or HaChaim points out that ‘la’asot et hashabbat’ surely means ‘to do shabbat’ – to perform the mitzvot of shabbat, which we usually call ‘keeping’ shabbat, so if that’s the case what is ‘veshamru b’nei yisroel’ – ‘and the people of Israel shall keep’?

With regard to shabbat, he explains, it means to look forward to each and every shabbat.

Where does he derive this from?

It’s from Parshat Vayeishev. In Parshat Vayeishev, we read about the dreams of Joseph. The reaction of his brothers in Bereishit 37:11 was,

“Vayekanu bo echav,” – “His brothers were jealous of him,”

But what was the reaction of his father Yaakov?

“V’aviv shamar et hadavar.” – “and his father was shomer this matter,”

meaning Yaakov knew that Joseph’s dreams were prophesy and therefore he looked forward to the day when he would see the fulfilment of these dreams, when the rest of the family and all of society would pay homage and respect to Joseph who would be a great ruler.

Shamar therefore means to look forward to, and as a result to be ‘shomer mitzvot’ means to have a passion for mitzvot. To be ‘oseh mitzvot’ of course means to fulfil the mitzvot, but from here we learn a very relevant and important lesson for us today. Is it not only important to technically and practically carry out mitzvot, through which we can tick a box with their fulfilment. If we want to preserve our tradition and guarantee that future generations will be as passionate as we are about mitzvot, we should celebrate them and perform them with hitlahavut, absolute passion. We are so fortunate and privileged through the Torah, to have a code of law and a guide to a fulfilling meaningful and joyous existence. Let us therefore be truly ‘shomrei mitzvot’ looking forward to the performance with passion of each and every precept that Hashem has gifted us.

Shabbat shalom.