Imagine somebody suggests to you that you should tell your spouse “I love you” three times a day. Sounds like a great idea. You wake up in the morning and start rushing off to work. “Oh, my gosh!” You hurry back and say, “Honey, I love you. See you later.”
You’re having a busy day, lots of big deals in the make, and it’s now two o’clock — oh, no! You call up your wife and say, “Hey, sweetheart, it’s me. I love you. I’ll call you later.”
You get home exhausted, fall asleep on the couch and — oh, no — it’s two o’clock in the morning! You panic, run to the bedroom: “Oh, honey, honey, wake up!”
“What is it?” she asks with alarm.
“I love you, goodnight.”
So what would happen if that kind of behavior went on and on? Would it keep you ever mindful of your loved ones presence and significance in your life? Or would it become a burdensome obligation? Is it a good idea to tell your spouse “I love you” three times a day, or is it a bad idea?
The answer to that question is up to you. The intentions that you put into it are what you’d get out of it. If a person says “I love you” with no meaning, no feeling and no understanding, then those words will get in the way of the relationship. But it is a truly great idea to tell your spouse regularly that you love him or her. You just have to put a little something into it — a little consciousness and understanding.
The same thing goes for the commandments. The Torah gives us ways of connecting to G-d and each other, spiritual strategies for living a more complete, meaningful and enlightened life, but we have to put a little soul into it. I can have a powerful lamp, but if I don’t know how to plug it in, it’s not going to turn on.
The Zohar offers a great parable for this concept. The Zohar describes the commandments as garments. By itself a garment cannot keep you warm; it can only keep the heat inside your body from escaping. Imagine you have the flu. You can have several blankets draped over you and you can still be shaking. The blanket only reflects your own body heat, gives you back what you put out. If you are cold inside, then nothing you put on the outside is going to help you.
In this way, the Zohar is teaching us that the commandments — such as celebrating Sabbath, keeping kosher, or doing acts of kindness — can only give back to us what we put into them. The commandments are like garments. They were meant to be put on and not to be a put off.