"If I don't practice for three days, the audience knows it. If I don't practice for two days, the critics know it. If I don't practice for one day, I know it." - from Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), acclaimed as one of the greatest violinists of all time.

***

There once was an inn-keeper who had fallen on hard times. The number of guests dwindled precipitously and his once-robust income stream was now a mere trickle. His bleak financial situation was exacerbated by the arrival of winter's bone-chilling winds and driving blizzards which further dashed his hopes of becoming profitable once again.

Towards dusk an unexpected rapping was heard at the door. The proprietor, curious about who would be possibly be braving the unrelenting elements, anticipated a (paying) patron seeking respite from the storm. But it was not meant to be.

"Excuse me," a bedraggled fellow inquired, "might you have a place for me to spend the evening? It's brutal out there. I'm just seeking refuge from the cold. Any lodging will do, but alas, I don't have a penny to my name. Perhaps you can find it in your heart to help a poor man."

"Finally," the inn-keeper lamented, "a knock on the door and he's asking for a free ride. Just my luck." Nevertheless, being a merciful man, he acquiesced to the pauper's request and showed him to small room where he could stay the night

After unpacking his measly satchel, the guest sauntered down to the kitchen and sheepishly inquired if the proprietor "happened to be able to spare a wee dram of schnapps."

Brooding to himself, the inn-keeper muttered, "Is this guy for real?! It's not enough he wants to free room, but some spirits on the house as well?!"

The inn-keeper poured a snifter from an old oak-cask filled with strong drink -- only to throw the contents on the floor. This scene repeated itself again until finally on the third go 'round, the proprietor presented the pauper with the highly-sought after l'chaim.

The inn-keeper's son observed this unusual sequence events and inquisitively asked, "Father, your drinks are in such short supply and so valuable, why did you throw them to waste on the ground?"

His father replied, "The first time I filled the snifter I was full of resentment for having to entertain this poor man's request for a freebie. The second time, too, I still harbored a tinge of frustration. By the third time, I was able to proceed with a full heart. Kindness, my son, is done with one's heart - not just with one's possessions."

***

"Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: So shall you bless the Children of Israel, say to them: 'May God bless you and guard you. May God illuminate His countenance toward you and endow you with grace. May God lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.'" (Num. 6:23-26)

Rashi - Say - "... do not bless them in haste and distraction, but rather, with concentration and with a whole heart."

The Priestly Blessing is preceded by a blessing of its own, whereby the Kohanim acknowledge God's grace in bestowing upon them, "the holiness of Aharon and commanding us to bless His people Israel with love."

Now, correct me if I'm wrong but this is one of the only situations where the standard text of a blessing over a mitzvah (i.e. asher kidishanu ...) is accompanied by the emotional state of the one performing the mitzvah. Where else do we find such a phenomenon?

I shake a lulav. Great. That's the mitzvah - I can do so energetically or lack-luster.

I hang a mezuzah. Great. That's the mitzvah - one can do so with great zeal or extreme apathy.

After all, mitzvahs are actions; leave all the emotional stuff for the next chuppah you attend.

The Kohanim's capacity to bless the nation is far more than the mere declaration of a formulaic computation. If the blessings and all the well-wishes they contain (for our physical and spiritual well-being) do not emanate from a source of love, care and concern - well, they may very well sound the same, but from the Torah's standpoint they are night and day different. Same words. Entirely different impact.

So often, the x factor that separates rote performance of rituals from sincere dedication to God is the fire inside. It's what catapults uninspiring obedience into enthusiastic devotion. As our Sages say, Rachmana liba bo. Actions are nice (and essential); but God ultimately "wants your heart."

May we tap into the deep, wellsprings of the Jewish heart and infuse our mitzvahs and conduct with as much pure love for your fellow Jew as we can muster.

Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Viders’ book on the Torah portion, “Seize the Moment” has recently been published by Mosaica Press.