Monday, June 27, 2016
Mussar Drosha: Loving Hashem
This is from the writings of the book Derech Avodah - Bein Adam L'Makom© on loving Hashem:
The Torah HaKedosha (Devarim 6:5) says ‘Vi’ahavta eis Hashem Elokecha, bi’chol li’vavicha, u’vichol nafshicha, u’vichol mi’odecha/And you shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your resources’ (following the translation of Mishnah Berachos 9:5). This is a madreiga that is so hard to reach, but must be! First; as we learn in Mishnah Berachos 9:5, ‘li’vavicha/with all your heart’ means to love Hashem with both of your ‘hearts’, i.e. the Yetzer hara and Yetzer tov. They derive this from the fact that the Torah writes the word as ‘li’vavicha’, with two, not one בּ. The regular word for heart would be leiv, not leivav. Now let us think about how high this madreiga is, just after the first of the three, (li’vavicha, nafshicha, mi’odecha). There are different opinions about the exact meaning of these things: Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah hold that to love Hashem with both your Yetzer hara and Yetzer tov means to love Hashem by following your Yetzer tov to follow the commandments, and reject the urge of your Yetzer hara to do bad.1 Rambam holds that the ‘Yetzer hara’ here refers to physical pleasures such as eating and drinking. By listening to your Yetzer tov and doing good things, and channeling the urge for physical desires such as eating and drinking for the service of Hashem, one serves Hashem with both his Yetzers. We need to eat and drink to stay alive, but excessive eating and drinking is just the Yetzer hara.2 We recite this passage in Shema every single day and night, but yet, we seem to miss a big point here. We actually have to try to reach these madreigos – to love Hashem like we are commanded to. How many people truly do this? But we must try our absolute best to! This requires much discipline. Your Yetzer hara will usually try to lead you astray, but we certainly cannot let it. What we must do is to take control of it, and make sure that we only use its urge for Avodas Hashem like the Rambam says. The thing is to rule over Yetzer hara, and then we will be able to love Hashem truly ‘bi’chol li’vavicha’.
But then there is more: We will now get on to ‘bi’chol nafshicha’: This means to love Hashem with all our soul. Mishnah Berachos 9:5 explains that this means to love Hashem even when He is taking your life (or soul) away. Again, I ask, do many people really do this? Do we truly fulfill our obligation in loving Hashem? We must think about this, and if we don’t love Him properly, then we must work to correct that. The Gemara (Berachos 61b) tells a story in line with this: When Rabbi Akiva was being martyred, the Romans tried to make his death as painful as possible. They were tearing his skin off with scorching hot metal combs, and he was saying the Shema with joy! His talmidim asked him “Master, to such an extent?” And he replied that all his life, he had grieved over the words ‘bi’chol li’vavicha,’ i.e. even when Hashem is taking your life away. He explained to them that he didn’t know when he would have the opportunity to fulfill these words. And now that he had the opportunity, “Shall I not fulfill it?” He asked his talmidim incredulously. He drew out the word ‘Echad’ until his soul departed from him. This holy man loved Hashem so much, that even when he was dying, he was only thinking about trying to fulfill a commandment! Even if we don’t come into a position like this, we must ask ourselves, would we be willing to do this if the situation arose? If we, Chas V’Shalom wouldn’t, then we must work on ourselves to get to this level. Even if we reach this level, we must not stop, as we can always get better. Never stop working on yourself! Hashem is giving us a precious gift every second by letting us have another breath. This may not usually be thought about. But it should be! Hashem is so kind to us every second. If someone would truly think about this, they would more likely come to love Hashem closer to how they are supposed to. Also, if we thought about this, then we would realize that every second, Hashem is giving us more life, so surely we should be willing to give up our life for Hashem! He gave it to us anyway. We must live our lives for the One Who gave us life in the first place. In the Chafetz Chaim’s (HaRav Yisroel Meir HaKohen Kagan zt”l) old age, he was heard saying over and over again, “Let my life be taken ‘Al Kiddush Hashem'.3 Since he was going to die, he wanted to do a Mitzvah in the meantime. Even if it would be very painful, he loved Hashem so much that he just wanted to do more Mitzvos. We too must work on ourselves to love Hashem this much. A person might give up their life to save their child, but would they give up their life if they had to serve Hashem? Truly, no pain should be able to deter us from serving Hashem Yisbareich. Nothing should be able to. This is a very high madreiga also.
Now we will discuss ‘u’vi’chol mi’odecha’: Mishnah Berachos 9:5 discusses this as well, and it says that this means to love Hashem with all your resources. Such as using all the resources that Hashem has given you for good purposes. Alternatively, the Mishnah says that ‘u’vi’chol mi’odecha could mean that whatever treatment Hashem gives you, thank Him very, very much. We must trust that everything Hashem does is fair and just. Truly, it all is, but our minds just don’t comprehend it often. Let us first discuss the former opinion of the Mishnah: Using all of your resources for Avodas Hashem is a very fundamental thing in life. They are all a gift from Hashem in the first place. When we use the stuff that He has given us for good that shows that we are grateful for His giving it to us. This ties in to the mashal of the Chafetz Chaim that we quoted in the Introduction. HaRav Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin zt”l says something on the passuk in Parshas Beshalach ‘Ki Ani Hashem Rof’echa/For I am Hashem your Healer’ that helps explain this concept: He explains that Hashem is telling us that even when He brings punishments upon us; it is only to heal us! He is our Healer always. Everything that He does is perfectly fair and just, and it is only for our benefit. Some people get upset when misfortune befalls them, but in truth, we should accept it with joy, as we know that whenever Hashem makes something happen, it is for the best, and furthermore, to heal us! If someone truly pondered these thoughts, they would realize that there is no such thing coming from Hashem really as misfortune. It is all for our benefit. So just like when Hashem brings good things on us and we accept them with joy and gratitude, so too, if Hashem brings something that doesn’t seem good upon us, we should accept it with joy and gratitude, because it is not really misfortune at all, it is for the best, just like the good things! He makes things happen that are really all for the best, but we just don’t understand His Supreme Wisdom.
These are very powerful messages. And we need to take them to heart.
Have a great day everyone!
1 Stone Edition Chumash. Artscroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.
2 Stone Edition Chumash. Artscroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.
3 Sparks of Mussar, page 239. By HaRav Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik zt"l. Feldheim Publications©
at 8:45:00 AM