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Striving to Serve
So many Mitzvot are Zecher Leyitziat Mizrayim. Kiddush, Sukkot, Pesach, Tefillin, Bechor, Petter Chamor, Kriat Shema, etc. The list of reminders doesn’t end. Why do we keep reminding ourselves of the Exodus from Mitzrayim? And why is it so important?
The Sifri writes why so many Mitzvot of the Torah are reminders of the Exodus. אֲנִ֞י יְקֹוָ֣ק אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר הוֹצֵ֤אתִי אֶתְכֶם֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of Egypt from your being their Slaves. (Bamidbar 15; 41) It is similar to a king whose beloved son was captured. When he took him out of captivity, he did not free him to be his son again. Instead, he made him a royal slave. So that when the son would not want to listen to his father the King, the King would take out the contract showing that he had bought this son as a slave, and say, “You are my slave”. That is why Hashem took us out of Egypt, so that we would serve Him, even when we are not in the mood. Even when it is hard. This is the reason why we have so many Mitzvoth to remind us of the Exodus. Because the Exodus was part of the plan to make us G-d’s servants. ) Sifri Shlach on the passuk)
In his master work Sichot Mussar, R Chaim Shmulevitz has not one essay written on being an Eved Hashem – but three!!! In the first edition, R Chaim summed it up as following: If a person can say, “I really love to eat pork, but what can I do – G-d said no!”, that is the ultimate servant of G-d. When a person puts his passion on pause, when a person downplays his desires in order to listen to G-d and His 613, that person is the quintessential Servant of G-d. (עבד ה’ 3) To be G-d’s servant means not to have your own opinion, if G-d has one. This is very different from being a son. A son can “not be in the mood”. But a servant must always be in the mood. G-d reminds you of the Exodos in order to remind you that you need to always be in the mood for the 613. A son has choice. A servant has no choice.
These weeks from Shemot until Terumah – Tetzaveh, that were given the acronym of Shovavim, the “wild” weeks, have a special power hidden in them. These are the weeks when G-d calls you His son, His Firstborn. בני בכורי ישראל. These are the weeks when you become an עבד ה’, G-d’s servant. כי לי בני-ישראל עבדים. (Vayikra 25; 55) Becoming G-d’s servant, serving G-d, is the recurring message. G-d told Pharaoh שלח את עמי ויעבדוני. Send My nation and they will serve Me.
We say in the Shema every day, that if we listen to G-d and His Mitzvoth, to love Him and to serve Him, with all of our hearts and all of our souls, we will merit all the blessings of the Torah. On the flip side, the biggest punishments we get are not because we misbehaved. But because we were not happy servants. תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה’ אלוהיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב The first words in Mishpatim that G-d told Moshe to tell the People at Har Sinai are – that you guys are My slaves, and not slaves to slaves! The Zohar teaches that the passuk that says כי לי בני-ישראל עבדים, Your being G-d’s servant, is not just a revelation. It is a Mitzvah. There is a Mitzvah to be a servant of Hashem, specifically in prayer. According to the Rambam, we have a Mitzvah to pray from the words ועבדתם את ה’ אלוקיכם, and we learn this from the words we say in Shema ולעבדו בכל לבבכם ובכל נפשכם. )Rambam Tefillah1;1)
The Mishna in Avot teaches that a servant of G-d is the most free person in the world. “והמכתב מכתב אלוקים חרות על הלוחות” (שמות ל”ב) “אל תקרא חָרוּת אלא חֵרוּת שאין לך בן חורין, אלא מי שעוסק בתורה” The only person who is truly free is the one who lives a life of Torah (Avot 6:2). Only by following the חרות of the Tablets can one become a free man. This is what King David said in his Psalms, and something we chant along with him, in Hallel. אָֽנָּ֣ה יְקֹוָק֘ כִּֽי־אֲנִ֪י עַ֫בְדֶּ֥ךָ אֲֽנִי־עַ֭בְדְּךָ בֶּן־אֲמָתֶ֑ךָ פִּ֝תַּ֗חְתָּ לְמוֹסֵרָֽי: Please G-d, because I am your servant, I am your servant the son of your maidservant. You have released my bonds.
How does this make any sense? Isn’t the person who is free to do whatever he wants more “free” than the person who is confined to a lifestyle of 613? How can it be that the way to freedom is through slavery?
The truth is that serving G-d, being G-d’s slave, is different from slavery. A free life without a moral compass is a life of misery, for G-d is inside you.וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ (Bereshit 1:27). When you serve G-d, when you follow His Torah, you live with moral conscience; you live with your goals. You have inner peace, between the opposing drives inside you, between your basic instincts and the standards you wish you were on. The 613 is this sort of map, with a lot of restrictions, rules and regulation, that will take you to your life’s purpose, in the most direct and the fastest way possible. And then, you are free to become who you really can become.
The first man to become G-d’s servant was Moshe. Then, Yehoshua and Kalev. We needed to go through Egypt to become G-d’s servant. Going through difficulties is the fundamental element in the whole process.
Whenever you have a hard time in life serving G-d, it is part of G-d’s plan to remind you that you are just His servant. Our Rabbis teach that one should make no interruption between Redemption to Prayers. (Berachot 4b) Our prayers, our Avodah, our service, is connected to our redemption. Both the Redemption of Exodus גאל ישראל , and the Redemption that each and every one of us go through in the present גואל ישראל. When G-d frees you from your troubles, you owe Him so much, you feel such gratitude, that you are willing to be his slave.
Why is prayer the pinnacle of serving G-d? There are three parts to prayer. 1. Praise. 2. Requesting. 3. Thanks. I could understand how the first and last part of prayer are serving G-d. But what about the requesting part? Is that also serving? When we pray for health, financial assistance, wisdom, that G-d answer our prayers… is all this asking also serving?
The Maharal (Netiv HaAvoda1) says that asking is a tremendous form of serving. There is no greater serving G-d than showing Him how you recognize that you are dependent upon Him. That he holds the keys. He has the medicine. He controls all of the markets and exactly how many cents you have or don’t have in your bank account. He is your doctor, and He is your “hard drive”. When you recognize that He is the boss, you are ready to give up all for the Boss. And once we become G-d’s servant, once we accept Him as the Ultimate Power in the Universe, He answers all of our prayers. If your prayers have not been answered yet, it is probably because you are not ready to be called G-d’s Servant (See Berachot 34b).
So, this morning, I woke up and asked myself – Yosef! Are you ready to serve? It was a different morning. I put on my Tefillin, to display that all of our senses are subservient to G-d. Four boxes on the head, for the four senses up there, Sight, Sound, Smell and Taste. One box on the arm, for the sense of Feeling. Just as we say in the Leshem Yichud, wearing Tefillin is proclaiming that we are making all of our senses subservient to G-d. And although the Tefillin of the head has four compartments, we put on the Tefillin of the arm first, to proclaim the ultimate subservience, נעשה ונשמע . We will do, and then we will listen. Even if we have no idea why G-d wants us to serve Him in the way He chooses, we don’t ask any questions.