I was working out on the treadmill, and my son was looking at me strangely. “But what’s the point, Mommy?” he asked. “Why are you walking if you’re not even going anywhere?”

It was clearly his first time watching me. “Walking is the point, sweetheart! My goal isn’t to get to a specific location, but to burn calories.”

The Protagonist of the Tanya, the Beinoni, has a similar question: What is the point of all the effort he invests in serving G‑d if he sees no actual improvement? He may fill his days with good deeds, but he still struggles constantly with his evil inclination and will never be a tzaddik. It seems like he’s going nowhere!

Except that is exactly the point. Not to reach a destination per se, but to burn spiritual calories.

The Zohar cites an analogy illustrating this idea. In order for a flame to burn, a wick is not enough; it needs oil to burn as a long-lasting candle. The Zohar compares the shechina, G‑d’s revelation, to a flame, and the human body to a wick. In order for the shechina to be revealed in a person, it needs oil to keep it burning.

That’s where those spiritual calories come in. Doing physical mitzvahs provides fuel for the flame of the shechina, and the only way to reveal G‑d’s shechina is by physically performing a mitzvah.

Why are mitzvot like fuel? Just as physical fuel gets completely consumed as it becomes light and loses its identity, doing a mitzvah is a way to create G‑d’s light, as there remains no conscious existence. If all I have are emotions for G‑d, then I am consciously feeling my own existence. There’s a me that is feeling. But when I do a mitzvah, it’s about G‑d and not me.

In other words, selflessness is the key to revealing G‑d’s light, and doing a mitzvah for G‑d is exactly that. So while I may not be transforming my animal soul completely to the same extent as a tzaddik, I am harnessing its energy as an active participant in revealing holiness in the world.

Tanya Bit: The mitzvot are G‑d’s inner will . . . and the point of it all.

(Inspired from Chapter 35 of Tanya)