“Moshe Rabbeinu told the Jewish people, “Today Hashem has commanded you to fulfill all of the statutes and laws…” – Devarim 26:16
Rashi is troubled by Moshe’s use of the word today, implying that Hashem first commanded the Jews to do the mitzvahs that day when in reality Hashem gave the Jewish people the mitzvahs almost 40 years earlier.
Rashi explains that Moshe was telling them, “Every day, in your eyes, it should be as if you were commanded in them today.” In other words, there should be an excitement with which we do the mitzvahs, a freshness and new energy, as if this were the first time we are hearing about them.
This Rashi is difficult to understand because we know there is a first time for every experience. When something is new, it is original, exciting, and fresh, but that newness quickly fades. That is a reality of life. So how can the Torah expect the Jewish people to look at old mitzvahs as if they were given that day, when it just isn’t so? And how can the Torah expect me today, thousands of years after the mitzvahs were given, to view each mitzvah as if I’m fulfilling it for the first time?
The answer lies in understanding certain tools Hashem gave to man.
The Power of Imagination
While reading a well-written novel, you may find yourself where you have never been before. Perhaps it’s the 17th century and you’re a pirate sailing the seven seas. There you are, fighting off your enemy as he tries to board your ship. The sun glinting in your eyes, you pull your sword from its scabbard. The enemy boards your vessel; you dig your feet into the deck, tightening your fist on your sword, ready to pounce. And suddenly – your child calls you to help with his or her homework. Gone is the pirate ship, gone is the scabbard and sword, and rudely you are pulled back to reality.
That is an example of imagination at work. Imagination is a powerful tool Hashem put into a person for a number of reasons. One of its functions is to make a scene, a time, or an event real. It can bring me to a different time, to a land I never saw, to an experience that I never had, and yet it is me right there. I feel it. I experience it. And in my mind’s eye, those events are actually happening to me. I may even have physiological reactions to the event – my heart rate will quicken, my blood pressure will increase, and my palms will begin sweating as I live that experience.
Imagination is also a tool that can help a person achieve success. Olympic athletes are trained to use visualizations. A diver will see himself standing high on the platform, the water glistening below. He is there in the stadium with the crowd cheering as he flawlessly performs his dive. He is living that experience in his mind, and it affects his performance later. He has already been there and done that.
The results of using visualizations are powerful. Studies show that not only do athletes who use them improve, but so do many other people whose activities require peak performance. From a salesman going on a new call to a surgeon performing a difficult operation, performance can be greatly increased by seeing the event happen successfully.
This seems to be the answer for this Rashi. The Torah is telling us a person can and should view the mitzvahs as if they are brand new, as if he heard about them for the very first time today. In my mind, I can feel that newness if I use this technique to visualize that I have first heard about them today. And this can bring freshness and a new energy to the manner in which I perform these mitzvahs.