Launched in May 2006, the Million Mitzvahs Campaign initiated by The Shul, a Chabad Lubavitch institution serving Bal Harbour, Surfside, Bay Harbor Island and Indian Creek, is motivating community members and people around the world to fulfill one more commandment. They’ll do this until, collectively, 1,000,000 concrete steps to a better world have been taken.
The Shul, under the direction of Chabad representative Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar, is a powerhouse of educational and communal activities. With a philosophy that Torah must be experienced in the context of the modern world, Rabbi Lipskar has been at the forefront of many innovative programs of which the Million Mitzvahs Campaign is the latest.
Quantified by a database and spreadsheets, the million mitzvahs goal is anything but a pie in the sky figure. Accountability wrapped alongside a numerical goal and a catchy name motivates participation, according to Million Mitzvahs committee member Sholom Moshe Sheridan. “We are onto something very powerful, very real.”
By logging onto www.millionmitzvahs.org, participants register the new mitzvahs they wish to keep, their frequency, along with basic contact information. Upon joining, participants receive a retail-style receipt and certificate of participation via email. Key chains, reminders, t-shirts and other tangible incentives will be available throughout the course of the yearlong campaign. But keeping the mitzvah is “always between man and his Creator,” said Million Mitzvahs Campaign coordinator Rabbi Mendy Levy. “We don’t force anyone to do anything.”
The bulk of the 200 participants are from The Shul’s immediate community, and the number is expected to grow as word of the campaign spreads. A big bump is expected when campaign is introduced to campers over the summer. Interest in the program has come from Australia, South Africa, Canada, Israel. Given the web-based nature of the campaign, distance is no barrier to participation. Plans are being made to assist other Chabad centers around the world to start Million Mitzvahs drives of their own.
Closer to home, the Jewish Community Center, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, CAJE, and other communal organizations have expressed interest in joining the campaign, and details are being ironed out. Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School plans to introduce the Million Mitzvahs concept to their 1,100 students in the fall, during the week before Rosh Hashannah. Associate Head of Hillel Day School Rabbi Michoel Druin supports the idea of individual students quantifying their mitzvahs because it makes them aware of each one. “We have the potential for a fortune of mitzvahs,” he said.
Mitzvah Campaigns are part of the fabric of Chabad-Lubavitch life. Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, instituted campaigns to spread the observance of specific commandments like lighting Shabbat candles, putting on tefillin, and keeping kosher. “Campaigns re-energized people and gave an urgency” to fulfilling facets of Jewish observance, said committee member Raphael Adouth. “This is an extension of what the Rebbe had always done.”
Though it is not a competition, the Million Mitzvahs’ lead participant has accumulated 8,500 new mitzvahs by pledging to give charity every hour on the hour of the business day. Hourly, daily, weekly and monthly mitzvahs are calculated based on the Jewish year, which has 354 days. One mother accumulated 354 mitzvahs by committing to give her son a hug each day.
Potential participants hesitant to join because of the contact information gathered during campaign registration can rest easy, said Rabbi Levy. “This is not a marketing campaign. We are not interested in soliciting business or using the information for financial reasons.” The names and numbers gathered are for the mitzvah campaign only.
Shayna Loebenstein, one of The Shul’s youth leaders, has found the Million Mitzvahs Campaign to be a good motivation for teenagers. No longer is keeping an additional mitzvah simply a good thing to do; it’s part of a trend, “something everyone is doing. You don’t want to miss out.” She encourages teens to choose a concrete mitzvah like giving charity instead of the amorphous choice to be a better person. Writing down the mitzvah and the tangible receipt keep the campaign commitments real. A Million Mitzvah March, Million Mitzvah Outings, and Million Mitzvah freebies should also prop up the campaign’s popularity and staying power. “Joining with a million others makes the mitzvahs you do personally part of a huge force for good.”