What is a Mitzvah?

Boy standing against chalkboard

The literal meaning of the Hebrew word mitzvah is commandment, but the generally accepted sense is that of a good deed. The emphasis is on deeds—not on positive thoughts or wishes, but on conscious acts of empathy and kindness. To help you learn more about what it means to do a mitzvah, we've posted some book suggestions, activitiy ideas, discussion questions, and videos below. Click one of the tiles to get started!

Read

Brothers reading on blanket in park

For Small Readers

26 Big Things Small Hands Do by Coleen Paratore

As you go through the alphabet, don’t forget the ABCs of mitzvot. Performing good deeds is something even the littlest among us can do.


Mitzi's Mitzvah by Gloria Koster

There’s nothing Mitzi loves more than to perform a mitzvah — even if she is just a puppy! When she visits the local nursing home, she helps the residents celebrate Rosh Hashanah, and does a bunch of mitzvot along the way.


For Preschoolers (up to age 5)

It's a Mitzvah, Grover

It's a Mitzvah, Grover by Tilda Balsley

Grover knows how to do a mitzvah (a good deed) — he helps clean up the playground. But no one knows more about trash than Moishe Oofnik. Will he help out too?



Sammy Spider's First Mitzvah

Sammy Spider's First Mitzvah by Sylvia Rouss

Everybody knows that spiders don’t perform mitzvot — spiders spin webs. But Sammy sees that Josh isn’t feeling well, and could use a visitor. Luckily, Josh’s friend Moti is ready to lend a hand.


Sara Finds a Mitzva

Sara Finds a Mitzva by Rebeka Simhaee

When Sara finds a toy duck, she’s tempted to keep it -- but her grandmother explains that returning a lost object to its owner is a mitzvah (literally, “commandment” — often understood to mean “good deed”). Happily for Sara, she learns that doing thing can be its own reward.


For Kindergarten and up


Bagels from Benny

Bagels from Benny by Aubrey Davis

While working in his grandfather’s bakery, Benny learns the joys of giving and receiving, caring and gratitude.


It's a...It's a...It's a Mitzvah by Liz Suneby & Diane Heiman

Mitzvah Meerkat loves the simple acts of kindness that help lead to tikkun olam (repairing the world). Whether it’s welcoming friends, sharing food with the hungry, respecting our elders, or forgiving others for mistakes, there’s almost always an opportunity for a mitzvah.


One Good Deed by Terri Fields

You know the phrase “pay it forward”? In Judaism, it’s known as mitzvah goreret mitzvah -- one good deed brings another good deed, no matter how small. This sweet book shows that concept in action.


The Mitzvah Magician by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Gabriel loves pretending to be a magician, but his magic wand keeps getting him into trouble. Then he figures out how to be a mitzvah magician, using his powers for good. One-wish, two-wish, Jew-wish!

To find books about a specific mitzvah, visit our Books page and sort by “value.”

Do

Sisters with Dad and Tzedakah boxes

Here are some mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) your child could undertake, along with the commandment each act of kindness fulfills:

Giving food or clothing to the homeless
(Respecting those in need)

Passing along cherished toys or games
(Do not covet)

Recycling or composting
(Do not destroy needlessly)

Sharing toys with a friend or sibling
(Peace in the home)

Making soup for a neighbor with the sniffles
(Visiting the sick)

Inviting a new classmate over for a playdate
(Welcoming guests)

Walking the dog or feeding a pet fish
(Being kind to animals)

You can download your very own “mitzvah chart” by clicking here. Or create your own by listing values that are important to your family and matching them with actions you and your child can take to exemplify those values.

Discuss

What makes something a mitzvah?
What are mitzvot our family can do together?
How can we show kindness to others?
How can we make the world a better place?

Watch

Let Grover and Shalom Sesame help your kids understand what doing a mitzvah is all about.

More

Are you interested in learning more about a specific mitzvot like returning lost objects or being a good friend? Search our blog for more activity and story ideas or check out an episode of Shaboom!.


Note: During the coronavirus pandemic, families can still practice the mitzvah of bikhur cholim, visiting the sick with virtual visits, care packages, hand-made cards, and phone calls and check-ins with loved ones. 

As always, keep the conversation going with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.