Wherever Jews live, you can guarantee that the Lubavitchers will soon be standing around on nearby street corners and wandering into their offices, smiling at the natives and nudging them to do a mitzvah.

"Excuse me, Sir, have you had the chance to put on tefillin today?"

"Ma'am, may I interest you in a pair of Shabbat candlesticks?"

"Step right up into the mobile sukkah and shake these, please."

In the few decades since the Rebbe sent his troops out to the streets, millions and millions of Jews have snatched a few moments to roll up their sleeves in a worthy cause or to mutter a quick prayer during their lunch break. But why bother? Leave the poor guy alone; he doesn't really care. Most people agree to participate less out of fidelity to faith than to take the path of least resistance. The smooth faced young boy asked so nicely, with such sincerity, that they couldn't bring themselves to refuse. But G‑d? He didn't come into the picture.

What value can there possibly be in such mitzvot? Seemingly empty words and accompanying gestures that are even less sincere. They're not fooling G‑d, so why bother wasting time having people act out a meaningless charade?

We Are All Individuals

Moses asked the same question.

G‑d commanded the Jewish people to each offer a half-shekel coin to the Temple as an act of contrition for sinning with the Golden Calf. No matter one's personal situation, whether individually wealthy or struggling, every single Jew was to line up and hand over an identical coin to the holy coffers.

To demonstrate the exact particulars of the coin in question, G‑d showed Moses a vision of a coin made from fire and insisted that every Jew donate a silver replica.

Moses didn't get it. "Okay," he argued, "I can accept that some physical form of repentance is needed to expiate our sins, but shouldn't we be given the opportunity for individual atonement? No two people think alike, nor do they act identically. Our intentions are unique to self, and surely the path of forgiveness should be tailored to our individual needs!"

Why should each of us be forced to perform the same seemingly meaningless rituals? If you enjoy putting on tefillin, or appreciate the aura of Shabbat candles, you indulge yourself; but why beg me or nudge me to join in when I don't think, feel or believe as you do?

Coins of Fire

Every mitzvah we do ignites within us a spark of G‑d

That was precisely the attitude that G‑d came to counter with the coin of fire. To you it might look like a stolid silver coin, emotionally detached and one-size-fits-none, but, from the Divine perspective, flames of purpose and passion blaze out of every action of every Jew. We are all individuals, G‑d speaks to each of us and we respond in kind. We may not know it at the time, we may be too unsophisticated to appreciate the incredible change we undergo; yet we are assured that every mitzvah we do ignites within us a spark of G‑d.

In practical terms, too, meeting those young boys and girls and agreeing to do just one mitzvah more has been the initial spark for hundreds of thousands of Jews to a reawakening to G‑d and Judaism. Those seemingly minor acts of observance resonate within the soul of a Jew like a branding iron of enlightenment and become the driving force towards inspiration.