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Mastering One Mitzvah

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Aryeh Leib Nivin

The Torah prescribes 613 mitzvot. That's a big number by any measure. But in a sense, it only comes down to one.

Do you ever get the feeling of being overwhelmed by so many mitzvot, and feeling you're not really doing any of them with excellence? The 613 mitzvot can seem like a vast and endless ocean, and we may not even understand how they bring us closer to God, and to greater understanding of life.

Maimonides says that the reason God gave us 613 mitzvot, is that it gives us better odds over the course of a lifetime to at least perform ONE mitzvah to perfection!

This Rosh Hashana, try taking one mitzvah that you do frequently -- and become an expert in it. Choose a mitzvah that you've always wanted to know and perform well. This might be saying the Shema, affixing a mezuzah, giving tzedakah, observing Shabbat, honoring your parents, or keeping kosher.

Study the mitzvah on a very deep level. Look up the verse associated with that mitzvah in the Torah, and research what the commentaries have to say about the meaning behind the mitzvah. Find out how the mitzvah gives you insight into life and brings you closer to God. Study all the philosophical and practical details – from many different angles. Ask questions of your local rabbi, or write to us at

And just when you think you've gone as deep as you can, go a little deeper.


Next, begin to apply what you've learned. Focus on performing the mitzvah properly. Make practical, realistic goals for improving your observance. For example, if you are working on saying the Shema, strive to say the first line with concentration and understanding. Then increase your goal one sentence at a time. Check yourself daily and chart your progress.

When you've successfully achieved an incremental step toward your goal, take a moment to reflect on the power and pleasure of mastering the mitzvah. If you've enjoyed this, then just imagine the pleasure available in the other 612 mitzvot!

Finally, take a moment to reflect on the goodness of God Who gave you this mitzvah in the first place. Feel gratitude toward the Almighty. Torah is a treasured gift, a sign of God's total love for us. Feel the beauty and genius of the Torah as a tool to help you grow and achieve your potential.

This coming year, may we all merit to "Master One Mitzvah."

(based on the Sefer HaChinuch - Mitzvah 418 )


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