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Sparks - Bo - Rabbi David Aaron

To Serve with Joy
Is your life ‘out of service’?

“And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh; and he said unto them: 'Go, serve the LORD your G-d; but who are they that shall go?'

And Moses said: 'We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go; because the holiday of G-d is for us.'” 
— Exodus 10:8-9

The King of Egypt must have been quite surprised by Moses answer. To serve G-d is not like serving you. It is not about degrading back-breaking slavery rather a joyful celebration for the whole family. To serve G-d is a holiday for us.

The Secret to Service

Most people think that a mitzvah is a "demand" meant to deprive or diminish our godly self worth. But that is incorrect. A mitzvah is a "command" enabling us to co- operate, associate, identify and thereby consciously bond with G-d and experience His love. This is the meaning of the blessing said prior to doing a mitzvah: "That you have made us holy through your commandments." As it says in the Torah: "You shall be holy for I am holy." [1] In other words, when we bond with G-d, the Holy One, we too become holy.

The Midrash [2] states:

"For what great nation is there, that has G-d so close to them?" [3] Hence the popular saying: "The King's servant is a king; cleave to heat and it will warm you."

Each day we are challenged with feelings of our nothingness. When we see ourselves relative to this enormous and overwhelming universe, we realize that we are not even the size of a speck of dust. And yet, even though everything from without seems to tell us that we are nothing, something within stubbornly insists that we are something. It is the very nature of humanity to try and overcome this threat of nothingness. We all do it. But the question is: can we really transcend the limitations of our beings? Can we beat our mortality and eventual return to dust?

It is human nature to want to identify with greatness in order to experience and partake of it. This is the psychology of patriotism; through commitment and devotion to my country, which I perceive as great, I will go beyond myself and my limitations, to partake in the great, sharing its glory and its eternity. Human beings often seek to be servants of the greater, whether it is a king, country or cause. In fact, this devotion may even lead to an individual giving his or her life for some important principle. This might sound like a gross nullification of self. However, it is this kind of commitment and self-sacrifice that gives people unusual strength and an even greater sense of self- worth. These benefits are all achieved through our devoted service to and identification with something which transcends our limited selves. All the hard work and personal sacrifice inspired by our passionate devotion actually leads to the ultimate in self- gratification. All is gained when you give of yourself to the beyond yourself.

When you serve your country or selflessly dedicate yourself to a great cause you do not feel self-effaced, nor do you experience your service as a degrading and depriving form of slavery. You actually feel just the opposite. Through service, you go beyond yourself, identifying and bonding with larger forces, eternal values and ideals. You become one with the great and share in its splendor. A mitzvah is G-d's gift to humanity, the opportunity to serve and bond with G-d; Who is the Greatest. Our humble service to G-d through the mitzvahs actually empowers us. We achieve greatness and transcendence when we identify and bond with G-d and thereby partake of His splendor and eternity.

Mitzvah - Redemption from Nothingness

The very concept of mitzvah is truly marvelous. How is it that G-d has any expectations of us at all? What can we do for G-d, who is almighty and complete? Am I so important that He would want my service? This question is expressed eloquently in the Psalms: [4]

When I behold Your heavens, the works of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him? The son of a man that You appoint him? And yet, You have made him just a little less than EL OHIM. You crown him with glory and honor.

The fact that I can do something for G-d is truly wondrous, because it redeems me from my apparent nothingness. When I live selfishly, caring only about myself, that's when I really feel like nothing. Only through serving G-d and devoting myself to the Divine values and ideals, accomplished through mitzvahs, can I truly redeem myself of my nothingness. King Solomon's dismal introduction to Ecclesiastes is the inevitable truth of life lived without mitzvahs: "Futility of futilities said Kohellet, futility of futilities, all is futile." [5]

The entire book of Ecclesiastes questions the significance of man and his few days on earth:

"What profit has man of all his labor under the sun? ... One generation passes away and another generation comes, but the earth abides forever. There is nothing new under the sun. There is no remembrance of the earlier generations, nor will there be remembrance of the later generations by those who come after them."

King Solomon however concludes:

"In sum, after all has been heard, revere EL OHIM and keep His commandments; for this is the all of humanity." [6]

The fear that mitzvahs rob humanity of our independent worth and power, is totally unwarranted. Rather, mitzvahs are Divine gifts that empower us and lead us to ultimate worth. mitzvahs only challenge our illusions of existing as a self-contained unit, independent of G-d's oneness. Although mitzvahs challenge our sense of independence in one way, they also offer a real path to self-fulfillment. We achieve a genuine and eternal being through service to, and identification with, G-d. [7]

The mitzvahs are not an expression of G-d's desire to diminish us or make us subservient to Him, rather they are expressions of G-d's love and His desire to elevate us by offering us ways to consciously bond with Him. The mitzvahs offer us the opportunity to realize G-d's all-embracing oneness through doing for G-d and experiencing love.

Mitzvahs and Love

When you give of yourself to another person, investing time and effort in him or her, you bond with that person and thereby feel love. The ecstasy of love is experiencing the bond and identification you forge with another person by giving of yourself to him or her in action.

Parents feel a profound and intimate connection with, and love for, their children through all their hard work in providing and caring for them. However, the children do not always reciprocate that same intense identification; they do not always feel love for their parent because of all that they have received. Why is that? Because the act of giving leads to a far greater identification and love than that accomplished through the act of receiving.

According to Judaism there is no greater happiness or joy other than doing a mitzvah. Each mitzvah is a taste of the eternal. Each mitzvah is a rung in the ladder of human ascension to godliness. Every time you do amitzvah, you provide the ultimate service to G- d, which is to crown Him as the King. Through doing a mitzvah you bond with G-d and enjoy the ecstasy of loving G-d. The Talmud teaches that the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah — the reward of love is love. A transgression, however, severs us from G-d. To sin means to break our bond with G-d and betray the love. The real punishment for a transgression is the transgression. We punish ourselves by alienating ourselves from the ground, root and context of our lives — G-d. We punish ourselves by forfeiting the opportunity to experience being in love.

When we follow the mitzvahs and serve G-d, we bond with G-d and enjoy the ultimate in self-worth and personal fulfillment. However, when we transgress the will of G-d, seeking to only fulfill our desires and serve ourselves, then we feel like nothing. We have severed ourselves from G-d, Who is the only true source of eternal being and self-worth.

The choice of love and life is whether we choose to serve or to sever. The mitzvahs are an opportunity to serve G-d. They are G-d's gift to us. They are the gift of giving ourselves to G-d, becoming godly and feeling and expressing love. To serve is joyful celebration for the whole family.

Rabbi David Aaron

Author of Endless Light, Seeing G-d, The Secret Life of G-d, Inviting G-d In, Love is My Religion, Soul Powered Prayer, Living A Joyous Life, and The G-d-Powered Life


 [1] Leviticus 19:1 
[2] Bereishis Rabba 16:3 
[3] Deuteronomy 4:17 
[4] Psalms 8:4 
[5] Ecclesiastes 1:2 
[6] Ecclesiastes 12:13 
[7] This is what is written in Proverbs (8:21): "To inherit to My beloved substance."

Tastings of Torah - Bo - by Rav Binny Freedman

In 1925, the American Astronomer Edwin Hubble demonstrated (as an extension of Vesto Slipher’s discovery in 1918) that the Universe was actually not static; it was expanding: every galaxy in the observable proximity of earth (as far as 6 x 1017 miles away) was actually receding at the same rate of speed. This, along with other discoveries, gave rise to the big bang theory: that the entire universe had once been contained in a singularity, a single dot that sat for an eternity in space before it exploded. 

Many, including Einstein, resisted the idea of a non-static universe as it implied a beginning and a supernatural external force that caused the big bang, but eventually, even Einstein had to admit a static universe was no longer likely. Indeed, the death knell of the static universe theory may have been Penzias and Wilson’s discovery (for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965) of the frequency of sound which was the echo of the big bang itself!

Of course, if all matter and energy was initially contained in the original dot of singularity, there was nothing external that could have naturally caused the big bang, which seemed to suggest a Prime Mover (G-d?). Hence Einstein’s reluctance to accept a non-static universe and his statement that “I have not yet fallen into the hands of shamans and priests…”

At this point the scientific community suggested another possibility: perhaps the Universe was expanding but would eventually implode back into a singularity and then, when all that energy contracted to its extreme limit it would explode again and the process would start all over again. In other words, the universe could still be viewed as static with no beginning, just of an oscillating nature with an endless succession of big bangs followed by big crunches followed again by big bangs and so on. In order to support this theory, there had to be enough average density of mass in the universe to allow for all the matter to eventually slow down and begin to reverse the expansion process. And as it turned out, there simply was not enough mass, not by a long shot.

And this led to a fascinating phenomenon as a plethora of scientists, desperate to be able to conclude that the Universe had no beginning, and that there was indeed no Prime Mover or G-d. Many theories were suggested as to where this massive amount of missing mass might be hidden. Perhaps in black holes? Or maybe behind each observable star lay many more hidden stars? Anything but the most obvious conclusion that the universe had a beginning and that all of creation thus may have been created with … purpose.

This week in Parshat (the portion of) Bo, we witness the tragic and yet inevitable conclusion of the battle of wills between Moshe and Pharaoh. After ten plagues, the destruction of Egypt, and finally, tragically, the death of his own firstborn son, Pharaoh finally exhorts Moshe to leave Egypt; he will finally let the Jewish people go.

And in this dramatic finale the Kotzker Rebbe (Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk) takes note of a curious detail:

As G-d visited the plague of the first-born in the middle of the night, there arose a great cry in all of Egypt, for there was no house that was not spared. (Shemot 12: 29-30) And the verse tells us that “Pharaoh arose in the night” (ibid v. 30) on which Rashi comments: (he arose) from his bed (“mi’mitato”).

Think about it: Moshe has given Pharaoh warning of nine plagues, and each one has indeed come to pass. And this time Moshe tells Pharaoh (ibid. 11:5-6) every first-born will die this night, including Pharaoh’s own son! And Pharaoh himself according to tradition was a first-born! And… Pharaoh goes to sleep? He is in bed? Seriously??

Says the Kotzker, there is a very deep idea here a person can become so ensconced in their beliefs that no amount of evidence to the contrary can sway them from their beliefs.

This phenomenon is similar to what happened in the plague of the hail, where, after six plagues Moshe warns Pharaoh and the people (ibid. 9:19-20) that whatever cattle are left in the fields along with anyone else, will be destroyed in the fields. After six plagues one would think everyone would immediately move everything into the barns. But incredibly, most Egyptians did not. Because to move the cattle would have been to admit that they were wrong, and that their entire lives had been built on a colossal mistake.

And we sadly see this all too often. Thirty years after Oslo, despite all the evidence that ‘land for peace’ did not work there are still significant groups of people who believe if only we would give away yet more land, we would have peace…

Even Shimon Peres, despite all his accomplishments especially as President of the State of Israel, was never able to admit that Oslo was a colossal error, because to admit that might have meant that his entire adult political career was built on a mistaken assumption; and that is a very hard thing to do.

Fascinatingly, after the hail, unlike the rest of the plagues, where Pharaoh expresses irritation, anger or even fear, here, in the plague of hail, he says to Moshe:

"I have sinned this time. God is the righteous one and I and my people are the wicked ones." (ibid. 9:28)

In a moment of clarity, Pharaoh realizes he made a mistake! G-d gave him a way out, and he should have grabbed it. He was perhaps given a chance to accept that G-d runs the world

Pharaoh actually recognizes here he has made a mistake, and he even regrets it! He is so close! All he has to do to change everything is decide to make a change and the future will be a whole new world. But he cannot make that change, and, failing to capitalize on the opportunity, once the hail has been removed, falls back into his old ways, and the rest is history.

In 1978 Dr. Robert Jastrow, director of NASA’s Goddard Center for Space Studies (One of the, if not the greatest Astro-physicists of his day), released NASA’s definitive findings on this topic after fifteen years of study declaring that the Universe was indeed open and expanding. To quote the article in the New York Times magazine:

This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They  have always accepted the word of the Bible: “In the Beginning G-d created Heaven and Earth…” But for the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak, and as he pulls himself over the final rock he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries…”

Pharaoh teaches us the danger of getting so stuck in the way we see things; we cannot see truth when it stares us in the face. Perhaps that is why the Jews need to leave Egypt; it’s time to share with the world a different reality.

There are so many challenges we face as a world; perhaps we need to approach them from a different perspective. After all, only madmen approach the same problems with the same solutions, expecting a different outcome….

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem,
Binny Freedman

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