Why mitzvos?

The following question appeared in the Orthodox Conundrum Discussion Group on Facebook:

Been on my mind for a few years and never really discussed it, but feel this is a good forum for it.
I have family and friends who are devout Christians, and can’t help but be a bit jealous of their emuna, bitachon and passion for spirituality. Now I know people will say commanded vs not commanded is easier. But we’re Maaminim Bnei Maaminim. Why are we struggling in that which should be easier for us and seems they got it?
Is it just a feel good?
Is there a way we can see what gets them (especially evangelicals) going and try to use those tools for our own avoda?
How does it seem they have it?
What are we missing?

I answered the following, looking less at the question of anything innately about Jews, and more about why Judaism takes work that Evangelicals seem to succeed without:

I think the difference is depth.

What you know in your head, and what you really think about yourself and your values, are often not deep enough to actually change behavior in the moment of decision.

Think of all of us who repeatedly go on diets and cheat on them. It’s not that you don’t know in your head it’s a dumb move. But it’s not held deeply enough to stand up to temptation.

R Elya Lopian taught that the whole purpose of Mussar is to move something one ammah — to move an idea from the head to the heart. Tenu’as haMussar taught that to really internalize a truth, we have to engage other modalities — middah exercises, hispa’alus (various ways of learning to maximize emotional impact), singing…

רב אמר: לא נתנו המצות אלא לצרף בהן את הבריות

Rav said: The mitzvos were only given so that people can be refined with them.

Bereishis Rabba 44:1 (better known from Ramban Devarim 22:6; see also “Divine Command Theory » Aspaqlaria“)

To Mussarists, this meant seeing mitzvos as Mussar exercises, ways of turning truths about good middos into actually having better middos.

Now, I can profess a lot of faith, hope and passion. I can even believe I really have that faith, hope and passion. But without working on myself through mitzvos and being forced to adhere to a discipline, would I actually have the emnuah, bitachon and hislahavus at a depth necessary to the right thing more often?

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