In the future, one who volunteers is considered greater than one who is commanded
Our daily contact with the commandments and the way we perceive their existence, is based on the special period in which we live, the period between the Giving of the Torah and the Messianic Era. In this period, when “one reaps that which one sows,” the rule is “greater is one who performs an act that he is commanded to do than one who volunteers to perform the commandment.” Conversely, according to Hassidism, in the future the volunteer will be considered the greater one.
In order to understand where human consciousness is heading, and what we mean by “natural” consciousness, we shall examine the changes that occur in the manner that the commandments are performed during the history of the nation of Israel. According to our present perception, someone who is commanded to perform an act is not acting according to his nature. If there is a need to command him, this proves that the act is unnatural to him, for if it were natural, he would perform the required actions of his own accord, without being commanded. The Torah does not command a person to breathe, because a person breathes naturally of his own accord without conscious awareness of doing so.
In physiology, it is customary to divide the nervous system into two parts: the sympathetic, and the parasympathetic. The former is responsible for the actions of a person which need conscious attention in order to be performed, while the latter is in charge of the systems and actions which do not need conscious attention. A person whose parasympathetic system is healthy does not need to think of digesting the food he has eaten in order for it to be digested, just as he does not have to think about breathing.
Similarly, we can say that the commandments of the Torah require “conscious awareness,” and one who is commanded, performs them consciously7. A person who volunteers, on the other hand, is expressing that the action he is performing is, in truth, part of his nature. He does not need to be commanded in order to perform it. We may say that at a certain level someone who volunteers is acting “automatically.”
We can also define in the same manner the commanded action as “mandatory”, while whatever is not explicitly commanded as “voluntary,” or “an optional offering.” Before the Exodus and the giving of the Torah, all the commandments were considered “natural” commandments. In relation to the commandments given to Israel at Mount Sinai, they were considered “voluntary” and “an optional offering.” After the Revelation at Sinai the commandments became “mandatory.”
According to Kabbalah, since the giving of the Torah the world is occupied with constructing “vessels” to receive the “light” of the commandments. This means that commandments as orders are intended to construct vessels, while optional performance of the commandments draws light into the vessels. Of course, the objective of the commandment is the light that inheres in it and that it disseminates, but it is impossible to receive this light without constructing an appropriate vessel. After the period of the fulfillment of the commandments as voluntary (before the Giving of the Torah), there had to be a period of fulfillment of commandments as mandatory orders (after the Giving of the Torah). The objective remained the light of the commandments, and that is why in the future, the voluntary fulfillment—the receiving of the light—becomes once again the key aspect, for “the reward of the righteous is given in the future.”
Nevertheless, the vessel will not be abolished in the future, for the period of performing the commandments as mandatory was meant to build a powerful vessel that can hold the light, and this vessel is needed in the future as well.
We thus stand before a paradox. On the one hand, the vessel (i.e., fulfilling the commandments as obligations) will remain, while on the other hand the commandment must be carried out voluntarily, in order to allow the light to enter and shine into the vessel.
The solution to this paradox is in the matter of the performance of the commandments in the future; the performance will be in the manner of “spontaneous obligation.” One will remain obligated to perform the commandments (in order to retain the vessel), but from one's point of view he will perform them “spontaneously,” as if they were totally voluntarily. From here we see that in the future, greater is the one who performs the commandments voluntarily, meaning one who performs the commandments spontaneously, with a completely natural feeling.
In other words, the true and complete “liberty” with which we began, will be expressed in the future in the manner of the fulfillment of the commandments. One will be at liberty to truly and completely fulfill the commandments as if they were voluntary, and thus merit the light of the commandment, the revelation of God linked with the commandment. At the same time, however, the vessel of the commandment will remain, i.e., the ability to contain and internalize this revelation.
We can summarize all three stages of the development of consciousness regarding the performance of the commandments as follows:
Now that we have delved into the issue of consciousness, we will focus on the two concepts “nature” and “consciousness,” and we shall examine the relationship between them, especially pertaining to the manner in which consciousness alters nature.
7 Scriptural commandments require conscious performance (kavanah), but rabbinical commandments do not require conscious performance (kavanah). We can see from here that Rabbinic commandments are more “natural” to us than the Scriptural commandments.