By “Living with Mitzvos” we refer to doing the action of the mitzvah not just mechanically, but mindfully. To focus on what one is doing with understanding and insights touching the depths of the mitzvah, thus doing the action of the mitzvah with greater enthusiasm and awareness.
One of the keys to this is to learn ta’amei hamitzvos – reasons for the mitzvos. Taam means taste as well as reason. The reasons we know for some of the mitzvos are a taste of their essence. Knowledge of ta’amei hamitzvos gives meaning and purpose to the physical actions.
After knowing comes doing
Besides knowledge, there are levels in how we perform mitzvos. There are three basic areas of human activity- thought, speech and physical action. Physical action is the lowest level – simply doing the act. This is the minimum requirement for fulfilling the mitzva, but it can be a mechanical action. Adding the activity of speech to the mitzvah (e.g. by making a brocha) means that a person is aware of what he is about to do. However, speech can also be mechanical. Thought is an even higher level where we don’t just know what we are about to do, but we are focused on the significance and meaning of our action.
There is a special prayer in the siddur to say before putting on tallis and tefillin. Saying this prayer with kavana – focused intent – involves the activities of both thought and speech, before the action is done. In this prayer, we mention the source of the mitzva i.e. the posuk in the Torah and the meaning behind the mitzva.
Higher levels of Living with mitzvos
Once a person is involving his thoughts and speech together with the action of performing a mitzva, there is an additional factor that can fundamentally affect the mitzva. This is the state of mind with which it is done – sadly or with happiness.
What is the benefit of mitzvos?
There is no benefit to Hashem from mitzvos, only to man. There is a reason for every mitzva, taamei hamitzvos, that comes to assist a person is his living with mitzvos. The mitzvos come to purify and better a person through doing them. The word taam, means reason as well as taste since they come to spice up and give meaning to understanding the mitzvos. Although there are chukim, statutes, the Chinuch (Mitzva 545) explains that this does not mean that they have no reasons but rather we cannot fathom their great depths.
Our approach to all mitzvos
The main example of this is seen in the chok, statute, of Pora Aduma, the red heifer. Although King Shlomo, the wisest of men, attempted to fathom it’s depths, he felt he was still far away from grasping it. However, it was revealed to Moshe (Midrash Chukas). The Torah phrases this as “Zois Chukas HaTorah“, this is the statute of the (whole) Torah to teach us that we should approach all the mitzvos in the same way and treat them as chok’s. The Sfas Emes says that this is why it is called “tamei hamitzva“, since the main meaning is not reason but taste. The main approach to mitzvos is to treat them as annulling our reasoning to Hashem and being submissive to his desires that are seen in the mitzvos. We are to do them unquestioningly despite not understanding why.