The Taste of Mitzvos

Why did G-d create
anything? We can’t say for sure because we cannot grasp G-d’s intentions.
Only G-d Himself can do that. But to a certain degree, G-d lets us know things
that we can understand, and even in that limited understanding, we can have a
deep sense of satisfaction.

It’s like that with everything. Why are atoms structured as
they are? Why does the world appear to our senses as it does? The Creator may
have had a million reasons that we cannot even begin to fathom. And the real
answers to our questions can only be given and understood by the Creator
Himself, because to understand them you have to know how the creation works and
what it’s all for.

But G-d did us a favor. He addressed our need to know and
gave us certain partial answers, certain clues and suggestions that make it
possible for us to grasp the world intellectually as well as through our senses.
When we explain something to a child, we give him a partial answer that he can
grasp. So too, G-d gives us partial answers that we, with our limited knowledge
and understanding, can find meaningful.

Just as we can’t account for all the details of the world
G-d created, we cannot account for the details of many of the mitzvos. Why did
G-d command us in this mitzvah? Why does a mitzvah have to be done this way and
not in some other way? Why do tefillin have to be black and square? Why do they
have to have this parsha and not some other? We don’t know why. That’s the
way He wants it, which is the only thing we can really say about the world we
see around us. We can only assume that that’s the way it has to be to
accomplish what it is created to do—to fulfill the intentions He had in
commanding us to do it. An electrician can understand why a radio has just the
parts and the wiring that it has. To anyone else, it may seem completely
arbitrary. The electrician knows that if it’s not done that way, it simply won’t
work—or at least, won’t work very well. It’s the same with the creation
and the same with mitzvos: Only one who can really understand them can really
explain them, and that is G-d. But we can assume that if the world wasn’t
created in its present form, it wouldn’t really work, and that if a mitzvah is
not done in just the way that G-d prescribes, it also won’t really work.

But we have a tradition of interpreting the mitzvos, of
trying to explain them and find meaning in them. In truth, of course, we can’t
even hope to reveal the real reasons for the mitzvos. However, G-d has made it
possible for us to have some sense of how they could be important. He has
allowed us to view them from afar, so to speak, to grasp something of the
meaning they have through the obscure and cloudy lens of our very limited
understanding of His ways.

But even that experience of understanding is really only a
taste and not necessarily real knowledge. Why do we eat bread and not sand?
Because that’s the way G-d created the world: bread is nourishing for our
bodies, sand isn’t. But ask a child and he might say, “Ugh, sand doesn’t
taste good. Bread does.” Well, that’s true, but we don’t eat bread because
it tastes good. It’s not the taste that nourishes us, however pleasant it may
be. We often take the taste of things for their real meaning. We often explain
things in a way that does little more then express they way they effect us—and
even then, on the most superficial level. But taste is important. It’s the
basic knowledge we have of the world. It’s unpleasant to have something in
your mouth that has no taste. It’s not easy to swallow something that has no
taste, even when we know that it’s good for us. So G-d gave a taste to the
mitzvos. He gave us a rudimentary understanding of them that answers our most
basic need for spiritual knowledge, but doesn’t begin to probe the real
reasons, the true understanding that is wrapped in the mysteries of G-d and
creation.

Taste can also be misleading because a person can find taste
in things that aren’t good for him. If a person took a rock, pulverized it and
added flavorings, it might taste better than a slice of bread. But it wouldn’t
be very good for him. It wouldn’t take very long before he died of
hunger–even though he had a great taste in his mouth. We can’t limit
ourselves to what tastes good, and we have to be very careful about evaluating
the benefit of things by their taste. Many of the most essential nutrients in
our food would have no taste at all if we isolated them and ate them by
themselves.

We know that mitzvos are spiritually nutritious. Sometimes we
imagine that if we could do a mitzvah differently—in a way that gave it a
better taste–it would be better. But the simplest food has more nourishment
than the tastiest dainty of pulverized rock. We are attracted to things by their
taste, but they don’t work because of their taste. They work because of the
way they were made. It’s the same with the mitzvos. They nourish us
spiritually because they are exactly what we need, and only the Creator who made
the world and the Redeemer who took us out of Egypt and gave us the Torah could
know what we need and what we have to do to get it. If we want the mitzvos to
work, if we want them to nourish us and bring a real light—not just a good
taste—into our lives, we have to do them just as He prescribed.