Saturday, August 12, 2006

All God Wants

All God Wants:

dvar torah Eqev 5766,

Yavneh Minyan of Flatbush

Jonathan Baker

Dt. 10:12-19

יב ועתה, ישראל--מה ידוד אלדיך, שאל מעמך: כי אם-ליראה את-ידוד אלדיך ללכת בכל-דרכיו, ולאהבה אתו, ולעבד את-ידוד אלדיך, בכל-לבבך ובכל-נפשך. יג לשמר את-מצות ידוד, ואת-חקתיו, אשר אנכי מצוך, היום--לטוב, לך. יד הן לידוד אלהיך, השמים ושמי השמים, הארץ, וכל-אשר-בה. טו רק באבתיך חשק ידוד, לאהבה אותם; ויבחר בזרעם אחריהם, בכם מכל-העמים--כיום הזה. טז ומלתם, את ערלת לבבכם; וערפכם--לא תקשו, עוד. יז כי, ידוד אלדיכם--הוא אלדי האלדים, ואדני האדנים: האל הגדל הגבר, והנורא, אשר לא-ישא פנים, ולא יקח שחד. יח עשה משפט יתום, ואלמנה; ואהב גר, לתת לו לחם ושמלה. יט ואהבתם, את-הגר: כי-גרים הייתם, בארץ מצרים. כ את-ידוד אלדיך תירא, אתו תעבד; ובו תדבק, ובשמו תשבע.

What does God want of us?

To fear Him, to imitate Him, to love Him, to serve Him.

To keep His laws and regulations, for our own good.

Note that these first four actions are paired opposites: love and fear, service and imitation. Imitation places us in God’s place, in God’s shoes, as much as we can in this world, while service maintains distance between servant and Master.

· To fear Him – not the lofty fear-from-love of the Chasidim, but plain fear, of punishment, so we do the right thing.

· To imitate Him – are we gods, to do like God? As Herschel Ramis says in Pog’ei Ruchos, “Are you a god? No. Then die.” We are mortals, those who die, which distinguishes us from God. Our thoughts are not His thoughts – how can we imitate Him?

But we only perceive God through His attributes, through His actions in the world – so we are to imitate His actions, His attitudes, as He is merciful, so should you be merciful, as He loves the stranger, so you should love the stranger.

· To love Him – to care for what He wants, to recognize His greatness, care for His will in the world – or the Torah, the blueprint of the world.

· To serve Him – in the temple, but not only that, in our own hearts and souls, internally, wholeheartedly – the service of the heart. Pray to Him, praise Him, glorify Him, and thereby raise ourselves up, by thinking of greatness, by striving for the same attributes in which we imitate Him.

· Summed up: ובו תדבק cleave to Him.

What is cleaving? Meshech Chochma surveys the variants:

· Rambam: cleave to talmidei chachamim – intellectual model, the mind as tool for reaching God

· Ramban : cleave to tzadikim, those who have made their will most congruent with the Torah and Mitzvot, God’s expression of His will for the world

· But these require intermediaries. R’ Meir Simcha tells us, via Saadia Gaon in Shaar haBitachon in Chovos Halevovos, that this mitzvah is for all of us, as individuals, without intermediaries. Cleaving is the attribute of Bitachon, confidence in Hashem, reliance on Hashem and only on Hashem, that He will provide for us today and tomorrow. That He will defend us in our wars of conquest and defense of Israel. This is made explicit in the maftir of today’s parasha: cleave to God and fear Him, and He will defend you and make you successful in war. Benei Yisrael had problems, chisoron emunah, in conquering the land, so they were stuck with difficulties in war, and presence of aliens as a thorn in the side.

The people of R’ Meir Simcha’s time worried too much about parnossah, where tomorrow’s meal was coming from. Through this chisaron emunah (lack of faith), they were led astray from the right path and gave up on Torah and Mitzvot, much as they had given up on God (this is my grandparents’ generation, who were throwing off the yoke of Torah in Eastern Europe 100 years ago)

Cleaving, then, is the result of, the summation of, these required actions. They add together to create a position of bitachon, of cleaving. But they are not just actions, they are abstractions, emotions that are required, in addition to the observance of the commands and rules. How do these two verses relate? How do emotional abstractions relate to concrete mitzvos?

The emotions inform the mitzvos, permeate our performance of mitzvos, imbuing them with holiness and sanctity.

How do we do this? This week’s parsha brings it all home to us – brochos.

1) We have the mitzvah of birkas hamozon: 8:10-11:

י ואכלת, ושבעת--וברכת את-ידוד אלדיך, על-הארץ הטבה אשר נתן-לך. יא השמר לך, פן-תשכח את-ידוד אלדיך,

Note what follows it immediately: Guard yourself, lest you forget Hashem.

This bracha, Chazal tell us in Maseches Brochos, this bracha creates the impetus for all the birchos hanehenin. How? If one is to bless God for the food after having eaten, when the food means less כדאמרי אינשי מלי כריסי זני בישי, how much more so should we bless before eating, when we are hungry? We must stop, and dedicate our eating to Hashem. By implication, then, we bless all our appreciations of Hashem’s creation, imbuing our use of God’s world with sanctity and intentionality. By blessing, we insure that we do not forget God.

2) Even more so, we have all the other blessings, the blessings over the mitzvoth, the blessings of praise, etc. right here in our pasuk. Where? Rabbi Meir tells us, don’t read “mah”, read “meah” – 100. We are to recite 100 brachot daily. How did Rabbi Meir know this? The verse has 100 letters in it, explains the Torah Temimah, following Rashi on the Gemara.

This ties it all together for us. How are we to engage in the abstractions, to endow all our actions, both mundane and mitzvadik, with holiness, with dedication to Hashem? By reciting blessings. The word, Baruch, itself, according to R’ Schwab, means to join. He tells us that the bracha formula means, that “we join with You, O God, immanent and transcendent, with whom we have an I-Thou intimate relation, in your being Our God, and even so the King of the Universe, in sanctifying this action, item, or idea.” Just as Hashem is holy and creates items in the world, we imbue the items and the actions with sanctity, we join with Hashem in completing the creation, by pronouncing the bracha over the item or action.

We are to bring passion to our mitzvah observance. We are to imbue our observance, mandated in verse 13, with the attributes in verse 12. We are to create passion in ourselves, for God, forHis Torah, for His universe, through fulfilling His Will for us as expressed in the holy Torah, which predated the world by 974 generations, and thus served as a blueprint for the world as a place where Torah could be fulfilled.

This leads us to devekus. This leads us to cleave to God, through our constant dedication of everything in our lives to Him, we reassure ourselves that we can rely on Him, that He is always there, that He is Our God, that He is the One who is worshiped, praised, the object of our fear and love, whose Will we pursue every minute of every day, through sanctity and sanctification of mundanity.

This is the passion of Torah, the passion of faith. This is the Aish Das, as R’ Micha Berger says,

To burn with AishDas means to learn from and grow with the mitzvos. To be observant not merely out of habit or upbringing, but to connect with the deed on intellectual and emotional levels.

This is how we must approach the Yomim Noraim. It is not enough simply to repent for past deeds. Teshuvah includes the requirement that when confronted with the same challenges in the future, that we learn not to fail in the same way again. By imbuing our actions with passion, with the attributes of Divine service, with the daily and hourly sanctification of the mundane, kiddush hachol, we might stand a better chance of living a better, more Godly life.

Therefore, come to the AishDas Shabbaton, September 15-16, at the Yavneh Minyan, the Shabbos before Slichos. Teshuvah, Repentance, is not just about regretting past actions, it’s about changing one’s reactions when faced with the same old challenges. Learn to gain passion for the mitzvos, to improve our actions in future. Teshuva: it’s about returning home, to what’s important.

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