Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Wed., Sept.12)


One thing is certain: the love of G-d should not be the sort that is dependent upon something. It should not be that you love G-d because He has done good for you, given you wealth, or made you successful. It must be the kind of love a son has for his father-- a visceral love that just naturally overtakes you. The Torah refers to it when this when it says, "Is He not your father, your master?"(Deuteronomy 32:6). The true test of this love comes during troubles and sorrows. Our sages said, "It is written 'And you will love G-d, the L-rd, with all of your heart, and all of your soul' (Deuteronomy 6:5) -- (that is to say) even if He should take away your soul-- (Ibid.) 'and all of your might'-- (that is to say) with all of your possessions" (Berachot 54a).

But in order for sorrows or woes not to deter you from this love, you would have to say one of two things to yourself. The first of these should be said by all, and the second should be said by the wise and fully-understanding. The first statement is that, "Everything done by Heaven is for the good" (Berachot 60b), which means to say that even our sorrows and woes are only for our ultimate good, though they may not seem to be. It can be compared to going to a doctor who sutures your flesh or an infected limb to make you healthy and prevent a mortal disease. Even though on the surface the act seems to be cruel, it is actually an act of great compassion for your ultimate good. The patient would not lessen his love of the doctor because of the procedure. In fact, he would love him even more. In the case of G-d's love for you as well, when you consider the fact that all that G-d does to you, physically or monetarily, is for your good, even though you may not understand how, you will not lessen your love for Him for any woes or sorrows, but will rather strengthen and enlarge upon it at all times. Those of true understanding have no need for this sort of explanation, because they have no self-serving needs. Their prayers are for the express purpose of increasing the honor of G-d and bringing satisfaction to Him. Whenever deterrents that would require a lot of determination to overcome get in their way, they simply strengthen their hearts and become pleased with the opportunity to manifest the power of their faith. They are like the warrior famous for his strength who constantly chooses to fight difficult battles just to illustrate his might and abilities. This sort of behavior is common amongst lovers who become happy when anything that gives them the chance to show their great love comes their way.

We will now go on to explain the various aspects of love of G-d. As we have said, there are three of them: attachment, happiness and vengeance. Attachment involves clutching onto His name at all times with all your heart, so that you care about nothing else. This was the object of Solomon's metaphor when he said, "A loving hind and a pleasant roe-- let her breasts satisfy you at all times and be ever ravished with her love" (Proverbs 5:19). Our sages said, "It was said of Rabbi Elazar ben P'dat that he would sit and study Torah in the upper part of the marketplace of Tziporri while his cloak would be hung on the lower part of the market-place" (Eruvin 54b).

Attaching yourself to G-d at all times is the ultimate degree of this trait. At the very least attach yourself to Him at the time of worship, if you truly love G-d. It is said in the Jerusalem Talmud, "Rabbi Chaninah ben Dosah was standing and praying, and if a lizard came by and bit him, he did not stop praying.... His students asked, 'Master-- didn't you feel that!?' And he said, 'When my heart is concentrating on prayer, I don't feel anything come what may'" (Berachot 5:1). The Torah refers to attachment many times: "Love G-d your L-rd, listen to His voice, and attach yourself to Him..." (Deuteronomy 30:20); "...attach yourself to Him" (Deuteronomy 10:20); and, "...attach yourselves to Him" (Deuteronomy 13:5). David said, "My soul is attached to You" (Psalms 63:9). The point of all of these verses is the same-- the attachment you have for your Creator should be the sort that will not allow you to separate or disassociate yourself from Him. Our sages said, "Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said, 'The Holy One (blessed be He) expressed his love for Israel in three ways: by His attachment, longing and desiring...'" (Breishit Rabbah 80:7). These categories-- the aforementioned longing, attachment, satisfaction and enjoyment-- are in fact the central offshoots of love.

The second aspect is happiness, which is a big element of Divine service. This is what David was referring to when he said, "Serve G-d with joy; approach him with song" (Psalms 100:2); and "The righteous will rejoice -- they will exult before G-d and be joyously happy" (Psalms 68:4). Our sages said, "The Divine Presence only dwells within a person that is happy doing a mitzvah" (Shabbat 30b). About the verse "Serve G-d with joy", the Midrash Shochar Tov says, "Rabbi Abihu says that this indicates that your heart should be happy when you are praying, for you are praying to the incomparable G-d." This is truly the kind of happiness the heart should rejoice with-- happiness for the fact that you are worthy to serve, and be engaged in the Torah and mitzvot of the L-rd, who is like no other. This is the true, most valuable and eternal sort of wholeness you can obtain. Solomon said it in this wise and parabolic way: "Draw me out-- we will run after you. The king has brought me to his chamber; we will be happy and rejoice in you" (Song of Songs 1:4). That is to say, the closer you merit to draw towards the chamber of the knowledge of G-d, the happier you will be and the more your heart will rejoice in intimacy with Him. As it says, "Israel will rejoice with its maker; the sons of Zion will regale their King" (Psalms 149:2). David reached this level to a very high degree and said, "May my ruminations be sweet to Him; I will be happy in G-d" (Psalms 104:34); and, "I will go to the sanctuary of G-d-- to the G-d who is the very happiness in my rapture-- and I will acknowledge G-d with the harp as my G-d" (Psalms 43:4); and, "My lips will rejoice when I sing to You as well as my soul, which You have redeemed" (Psalms 71:23). This means to say that happiness so overpowered him that his lips moved by themselves and were thrilled to be engaged in the praise of G-d. This was a result of the great incandescence of joy with which his soul was burning before G-d. That was why he finished with, " soul, which You have redeemed". We find that G-d was furious with Israel when they lacked this in their worship. It is said, "Because you have not served G-d your L-rd with joy and a good-natured heart..." (Deuteronomy 28:47). When he saw that Israel had already attained this great trait because the people had been so generous in the building of the Holy Temple, David prayed that it would be fixed in the people and would never leave. He said, "... and now I have seen Your people here, offering to You joyously and freely. O G-d, L-rd of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, our fathers-- keep this forever in the inclinations of the hearts of Your people, and direct their hearts to You" (I Chronicles 29:17-18).

The third subdivision involves vengeance and refers to your being vengeful in regard to His Holy Name. It includes hating those who hate Him and trying to subjugate them as much as you can so that worship of Him can be carried out and His glory can be magnified. This is what David was referring to when he said, "Do I not hate those who hate you, G-d, and contend against those who rise up against you? I hate them thoroughly" (Psalms 139:21–22). The prophet Elijah said, "I have avenged for the L-rd of Hosts" (I Kings 19:10). And we have already seen what he merited because of his vengeance for the sake of G-d. As it is said, "Because he was vengeful for His G-d and brought atonement to Israel" (Numbers 25:13). Our sages underscored the notion by saying that one who has it within his power to rebuke and does not is in the same category as the transgressor himself (Shabbat 54b). It is written in the Midrash, "It is said, 'Her leaders were like harts' (Lamentations 1:6)-- just as harts hide their heads one under the other in the scorching heat, so did the leaders of Israel hide their heads one under the other when they saw transgressions being committed. The Holy One (blessed be He) said to them, 'The time will come when I will do the same for you!'" (Eicha Rabbah 1:6).


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman