This week's parsha
A Question of Emphasis
The Midrash on this week's parshah quotes an interesting argument between Rabbi Levi and the sages as to the primacy of G‑d's commandments. Rabbi Levi felt that the recitation of Shema is the primary mitzvah. The sages felt that observing the Shabbat is primary.
We can understand their difference of opinion in the following manner. The difference between Shabbat and Shema is that Shabbat is a holy day even if we don't observe it. Shema, on the other hand, is created by our performance. If we recite the Shema it becomes reality, if we don't it is merely a concept. Shema is an action, Shabbat is an existence in time.
G‑d and Me
The question is one of emphasis. Where do we place the emphasis of a mitzvah? Is it on our decision to perform the mitzvah, or is it on the fact that G‑d has accorded us the opportunity to perform it? Is it an offering to G‑d by the Jew, or a offering to the Jew by G‑d?
Both elements exist in every mitzvah, and both are equally important, each in its own way. It is our duty to contemplate this matter on a personal level, so that we can be conscious of our contribution to G‑d and to ourselves every time we perform a mitzvah.