No Religious Discounts

Parashat Va'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bargain shopper. I love to find the discounts whenever I can. It can be a fun challenge and every penny we save with our large family adds up. But some people are much more serious bargain shoppers than I am. They don’t buy anything without a discount, and if they can’t find the discount they are looking for they will haggle with the merchant until they can get the item marked down to some degree or another. And while that level of tenacity can be appreciated in some ways when it comes to shopping, when we try to apply this instinct to religious practice it can actually work against us. 

You may not know it, but deep down within us we are all bargain shoppers and hagglers when it comes to religious expression and we need to be aware of it so that we can avoid falling into its trap. For instance, if we don’t feel like praying one day we may try to bargain our way out of it. We begin rationalizing with ourselves, “My prayer time yesterday was really good. It won’t be so bad if I miss today.” Or maybe it’s finding a congregation: “Their service is too long,” or “I don’t like all of the Hebrew,” or “That person annoys me.” Maybe it’s observing the appointed times: “The Sabbath is the only time I have to get things done.” Maybe it’s observing kosher: “God looks on the heart, not the stomach,” or “Our culture isn’t conducive to separating meat and dairy.” Whatever the case may be, we are quick to try and get our spiritual benefits at a discount. But Hashem doesn’t offer discounts when it comes to obedience.

In this week’s portion, we read about the need to pass down faithful observance of the Torah to subsequent generations, and what Hashem expects from a people He has redeemed from slavery:

When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’ (Deuteronomy 6:20–25)

The LORD concludes this section by commanding the Children of Israel to pass down His commandments to their children and grandchildren, and remind them that their faithfulness to the details of these commandments will be reckoned to them as righteousness. He says that they are to tell their children, “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us” (6:25). Just a few verses previously He reminds them that they are not only to keep the commandments, but they are to keep them diligently:

You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. (Deuteronomy 6:16–17)

The cost of Hashem’s mitzvot are premium because they aren’t cheap imitations; they are handcrafted and tailored for us by The Master Craftsman. We can’t try to haggle for discounts and expect the blessings that come with them. But if we pay the premium price for them we will receive their maximum dividends. When we give our all, even when we don’t meet our own expectations, it is beautiful in His eyes and He rewards us for it. Rather than looking for a bargain or even a loophole when it comes to our spiritual service, we should be looking to pay retail and maybe even adding a tip.