Parashat Ki-Teseh: Misvot and the Potato Chip Syndrome
One of many Misvot discussed in Parashat Ki-Teseh is the famous Misva of "Shilu’ah Ha’ken," sending away a mother bird before taking eggs from the nest. This Misva is followed by the Misva of "Ma’akeh," the obligation to place a parapet around one’s roof for safety: "If you build a new house, you shall construct a parapet for your roof" (22:8). The Midrash explains the juxtaposition between these two topics, teaching that the second is the reward for the first. Meaning, the reward for faithfully fulfilling the Misva of Shilu’ah Ha’ken is a new house, which necessitates the construction of a parapet. The Torah then proceeds to discuss several laws relating to farming, such as the prohibition against sowing two types of seeds together. This, too, the Midrash comments, is a reward. For fulfilling the Misva of "Ma’akeh," one is rewarded with a field which allows him to observe the Torah’s agricultural laws. Then, the Torah introduces the Misva of Sisit, the obligation to affix strings to the corners of one’s garment. Once again, the Midrash teaches that this is a reward. If one observes the Torah’s farming laws, then he is given the ability to obtain new, fine garments and fulfill the Misva of Sisit.
The point the Midrash is making is that one Misva leads to another. The reward for Shilu’ah Ha’ken is not simply a house – because a house that is not used for a higher purpose is not a reward – but rather the ability to perform Misvot with the house. And then, one is rewarded with a field, which provides opportunities for even more Misvot. And then one purchases new garments, and is able to do additional Misvot. Each Misva we perform ends up facilitating another one. And that Misva then brings us to yet another. We might say that Misvot are like potato chips. As we all know too well, it is impossible to eat just one potato chip. When we eat one, we then need another. And then another. Misvot work the same way. Once we perform a Misva, we will soon find ourselves involved in another one. A person’s friend drags him to a Torah class, and he finds it gratifying, and also makes some new friends. Soon enough, he is attending more classes and community functions, helping out friends, volunteering for community functions, and so on.
Why is this so? How does one Misva lead to another?
Our Rabbis teach us that every time we do a Misva, we create an angel. That angel looks to "repay" us for bringing him into existence by advocating on our behalf that we should have the ability to perform additional Misvot. This is the secret to the concept of "Misva Goreret Misva," that one Misva leads to another. Each angel we create by performing Misvot works to ensure that we will be able to perform more Misvot.
People involved in outreach, in trying to bring Jews back to religious observance, know this concept very well. Attempting to persuade somebody to drastically change his or her lifestyle is not likely to succeed. But what can and does work is encouraging somebody to perform one Misva, such as to observe one Shabbat, to participate in one Hesed project, or to attend one Shiur. The power of that Misva will naturally lead to yet another, which will then lead to another, and so on. It is that initial step which triggers the process of developing a full-fledged Torah commitment.
We must realize, however, that the converse is also true. Just as one Misva facilitates another, one sin facilitates another. When we commit a sin, we create an angel that seeks to lead us toward yet another sin. There’s no such thing as transgressing just once, as breaking the rules only temporarily and then immediately getting back on track. This is not how its works. If we violate the Torah once, we bring ourselves dramatically closer to another violation. And then to another. The "potato chip syndrome" is true regarding sins just as it is regarding Misvot.
We must never underestimate the power and significance of any action. A positive act will lead us along the path of more Misvot, while a negative act will lead us along the opposite path. Let us therefore always choose wisely, and put ourselves on the road of Misva performance, one Misva at a time, and we will then be rewarded with even more Misvot, and then some more, throughout our lives.