We are used to thinking about mitzvos as bringing something “into” this world from the upper worlds (we, meaning, the people who learn Chassidus and Kabbalah). This is the so-called male way of looking at mitzvos: bringing something from the outside, correcting, changing, influencing, conquering. If you look at the stereotypical male mitzva, tefillin, this point of view is evident in it: tefillin binds heart to the mind. On the other hand, if you look at the stereotypical female mitzva, lighting Shabbos candles, it doesn’t really bind or change anything; it merely adds more light, to reveal what’s already there.
So, what is this alternative female point of view of looking at the mitzvos?
In one ma’amor, Rebbe Maharash states that the Essence of G-d is not present in the Upper Worlds. Because the Upper Worlds are the worlds of truth, the worlds of revelation (oilamim ho’emes v’gilui), had the Essence been present there, it would be b’gilui, in a state of revelation, and thereby would nullify the worlds’ existence. That is why only Hashem’s Light is present in the Upper Worlds.
In our, physical world, this worry does not exist. Because it’s Oilam HoSheker v’Hester (the World of Lies and Concealment), there is no danger that the truth of the existence of Essence will be revealed. As a result, Hashem’s Essence can safely be present in this world. This is similar to how the angel concealed himself from Bilam, but not from the donkey, because the latter didn’t really understand what it was seeing, and therefore, it was safe for it to gaze at the angel, while had Bilam seen the angel, he would flip out.
Furthermore, it is explained in Chassidus that this world is “the last in creation, but first in thought”, and that “the end is bound in the beginning” (there is another application of this adage vis-a-vis the connection of Malchus and Kesser). Despite creating the Upper Worlds first, Hashem really desires the dwelling in this Lower World. There is an intrinsic connection between Hashem’s Essence and the physical nature of this world, because both the Essence and the physical share an important characteristic: metziusoi m’atzmusoi — “its existence is from itself”. While we call the Light of Hashem Ein Soif, “Without End”, Hashem’s Essence is called Ein Tchillo, “Without Beginning”. Although, of course, the appearance of this world being a source of itself is an illusion, the fact that such an illusion can even exist comes from the fact that Hashem’s Essence is directly invested and linked with the physical of this world.
So, what exactly do the mitzvos accomplish? The traditional image of the mitzvos in Kabbala is that of channels between the Upper Worlds, in particular, the world of Atzilus, and our world. Whenever someone does a mitzva, he opens up a channel between himself and the Body of the King in Atzilus, and through this channel, some of Hashem’s Light enters this world. For now it is in a form of concealment, but when Moshiach comes, it is this Light which will revealed.
But what’s the point, if the Essence of Hashem is here anyway?
I think maybe the answer is that every time we open up a channel, we are bringing in a shtikel gilui into this world. It’s not like we are adding anything new; we are revealing something about this world: the fact that Hashem’s Essence is already here. Since this world is a world of lies, we need a little ray of light to wash off the klipah that conceals the truth.
I think the nafka minah of this “female” way of thinking is that we do not see the world as inherently evil unless proven good; we do not see other Jews (including those who do not keep mitzvos) as inherently devoid of G-dliness, unless already engaged in Torah and mitzvos. In reality, it’s the opposite: we see the world as already inherently good; the only thing required from us is to reveal that.
I heard one time an explanation from my rabbi about the concept of tefillin campaign. What’s the point of putting on tefillin on someone who is not religious?
In Chumash we find a well known argument between Moshe Rabbeinu and Betzalel. Moshe Rabbeinu said that first the vessels and Menoira for the Mishkan need to be constructed and then the walls of the Mishkan, while Betzalel answered: “First one builds the walls of a building and then builds the furniture to bring inside”. Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem what to do, and Hashem agreed with Betzalel.
The explanation is: Moshe Rabbeinu wanted that his people be Jews internally first, and then the external should follow. Being ish ho’emes, a man of truth, Moshe Rabbeinu saw the reality in idealistic, maximalistic light. Betzalel, on the other hand, saw the reality in pragmatic light: it may be too difficult for most people to demand an internal change before the external one. Fake it until you make it.
So, this might be one explanation of putting on tefillin on non-religious people: yes, they are not religious, but if you force the external appearance a few times, it will result in some kind of internal change eventually.
But what about meeting someone on a street and putting on tefillin on him, considering you don’t know if you will ever meet him again? What about putting on tefillin on a dying person, chv"sh? (Something a local shliach has had an opportunity to do.) Imagine a situation when you have to bring a beggar from the street into court to be a witness. He is washed up and dressed in a suit. He looks like a respectable gentleman. But in reality, he is still a beggar; he is just dressed as a gentleman. You need years of living in the external environment of a gentleman for your internal environment to change accordingly.
This is where the above “female” approach should be applied. A Jew who does not keep mitzvos is not a beggar. He is a gentleman who is pretending to be a beggar. Every Jew has Essence of G-d inside him, and he can never be separated from the Essence. So, when you put tefillin on him, you’re not putting on gentleman’s clothes on a beggar, you’re putting on gentleman’s clothes on a gentleman who was pretending to be a beggar. Puttin on tefillin even once does not force a new reality on a Jew; it reveals an already existing, inviolable, unchangeable reality of who he is.