This sedra is the only one to have the word ‘command’ as its name. It occurs at the beginning and at the conclusion and it is a phrase used 11 more times. It is therefore worth considering the nature of commandments and the position of one who is commanded.
The Gemara states: “Greater is the one who is commanded and does than the one who is not commanded and does”. What the rabbis mean is that, on a scale of merit, it is a greater act to fulfil a commandment than it is to do the same action on one’s own volition. This appears to be counter-intuitive. Surely a volunteer is nobler than a paid worker and being self-motivated to do good is greater than goodness resulting from instruction?
Tosafot explains that a person who is commanded has the fear of punishment hanging over them and are therefore very particular in their performance of the precept, so are deserving of greater reward, than someone who does the same act but was not commanded to do so. However, there is another dimension. Somebody who is ordered to do something and does it shows a greater degree of personal freedom than anybody else. Again this seems illogical.
Our natural human inclination is to resist the dictates of another being. When we submit ourselves to that command, we have subdued our inclination and freed ourselves of that restrictive psyche. That is therefore a significant act and deserving of greater reward than one who merely chooses to act, following the whims of their heart.
υ Alex Chapper is minister of Ilford Federation shul and the Children’s Rabbi – childrensrabbi.com