One of the basic teachings of Judaism is that the spiritual and physical worlds are intertwined and interconnected. Just like there is physical sickness so too spiritual illness afflicts us all. And just like often the symptoms of horrible diseases lie dormant, not bothering us until it is too late, too many of us are not even aware of our spiritual maladies until it is often too late. Giving more attention to one's children only after they have grown up when one has more free time will not impact on their development.
Sin is, as Rav Soloveitchik points out, "abnormal". Just as physical sickness results when our body malfunctions, sin results when our spiritual state suffers a breakdown. Man has a natural tendency to dismiss physical symptoms as "no big deal" often putting off seeing a doctor until it is too late. So, too, we often do not listen to our spiritual cries that are trying to tell us to put more meaning and spirituality into our lives.
It is no coincidence that the rabbis teach that there are 248 positive commandments in the Torah which correspond to the 248 limbs in the body. A healthy person is one whose body and soul work together in harmony.
It is interesting to note that the first mitzva in the Torah is "to fill the land and conquer it" and the 613th mitzva, which we read in this week's parsha, is the commandment for each Jew to write a personal sefer Torah (according to most halachic authorities the mitzva is fulfilled today by having a Jewish library in your home.) The Jew's first obligation is to physically populate the world and more importantly to "conquer" it. Man must conquer the world, explore it and harness the powerful forces of nature for the benefit of mankind. In this way we become partners with G-d in the ongoing process of creation. But as science advances so must morality and ethics. An advanced technological world must develop the mechanisms to grapple with the ethical issues that are constantly arising. Thus the Torah commands us that we must write a sefer Torah. Conquering must be guided by an overriding purpose; to leave a moral and spiritual legacy. Man enters a physical world, and in youth, departing from this world is the furthest thing from one's mind. Man builds and builds. However, when man does depart it is his spiritual building, his personal Torah that is left behind. The 611 mitzvot in between teach us how to conquer the world in a way that will leave behind a permanent legacy.
Continuing on the "at bash theme" the second mitzva of the Torah is that of brit milah , the covenant of circumcision. According to many commentaries a major purpose of brit milah is to remind us that our physical urges must be controlled and channelled in the proper direction. We must conquer the world, but there are limits that must be adhered to both individually and collectively. The 612th mitzva, immediately preceding the mitzva to write a sefer torah is the mitzva of hakhel which required each and every Jew (including small children) to gather in Jerusalem every seven years to hear the king read certain parts of the Torah. Spiritual growth is most easily attained and available in a communal setting. Just the act of Jews coming together as a community, a kahal, is a worthwhile endeavour as it helps to build and strengthen that community.
The mitzvot begin with conquering, covenant and limitation. They end with community and Torah. When we come together to study Torah, to write our own sefer Torah, then we have continued the covenant with G-d and are truly conquering the world as the prophet Zechariah says "not by might nor by power but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts." Shabbat Shalom!