These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

What Sarah thinks Judaism Has to Say About….

Posted on October 7, 2013 by The Director of Digital Media

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From my blog:

RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships with just anyone and relationships with Hashem.


I’m hoping that if I sit down at the end of the day to try and process all of my thoughts and create a semi-coherent train of thought, it will help me to sort the things that I’ve learned and retain the information better. Let’s see what my brain can work out after 8 hours at Pardes.

Today is Monday, which means that my schedule is Humash, Siddur, Pirkei Avot, Hasidut and Night Seder. What does all of this mean?

  • Humash: referring to the Torah in printed form, as opposed to scroll. It comes from the Hebrew work hamesh, meaning five, correlating to the five books of the Torah.
  • Siddur: a Jewish prayer book, containing a set form of daily prayers.
  • Pirkei Avot: literally meaning Chapters of Fathers. Chapters of the Mishna, Oral Law, in the section called Damages, which discusses civil law. It deals with moral and ethical concepts.
  • Hasidut: a study of Hasidic stories, songs, and expounds on traditional texts from the Hasidic lens.
  • Night Seder: a time when the Beit Midrash, study hall, is open with teachers and small group learning.

Just the way that things worked out, the pages that we happened to be learning, the material that my teachers decided to cover, the theme of the day seemed to be relationships. In Humash, we spoke at length of the relationship that existed between the Jews and the Egyptians in the time directly preceding the period of time when Jews were slaves in Egypt. In Siddur, we spoke about the relationship between the nation of Israel and Hashem and how it dictates the way that we relate to Hashem in Kabbalat Shabbat, the prayer service that welcomes and begins Shabbat. And then I got to Pirkei Avot and things got much more serious.

The text of the third section of the first chapter of Pirkei Avot:

.אנטיגנוס איש סוכו קיבל משמעון הצדיק

Antigonos, leader of Socho, received from Shimon the Righteous.

:הוא היה אומר

He used to say:

.אל תהיו כעבדים המשמשין את הרב על מנת לקבל פרס, אלא הוו כעבדים המשמשין את הרב שלא על מנת לקבל פרס, ויהי מורא שמים עליכם

Don’t be like slaves that serve their master on the condition of receiving a gift, instead be like slaves that serve their master without the condition of receiving a gift, and there will be the awe of Heaven upon you.

[Feel free to question the translation. I wrote it :) ]

What does this mean? On the p’shat, literal, level, it says: do work and don’t worry about the compensation that you’re going to receive. However, this seems a little backwards, especially to those of us who wake up every day, go to work, and expect a pay check at the end of the month. Here, Antigonos is talking about a different kind of servitude; servitude to Hashem. The Mishna is saying that in this world, we are all servants, with Hashem as our master. We can’t go through life doing mitzvot only focused on the promise of some kind of reward. Don’t give tzedakah because you think that your friend who is sick will get better. Don’t be nice to someone because you think that Hashem will notice and you’ll get a promotion.

Instead, give tzedakah because you love Hashem and Hashem commands you to give tzedakah. Instead, be nice to someone because you love Hashem and that person is created in the image of Hashem.

If that’s the message that we are supposed to take from the Mishna, why doesn’t Antigonos just say, “You should love Hashem and serve Him through love.” The moral advice is not to love Hashem for fear that a person will love Hashem from a place of self-centeredness, that we will come to love Hashem because of kindness already received. We will come to love Hashem out of gratitude alone, and not from a place of praise and true love.

This is also working off of the basis of proximity. Why does Antigonos say that the “fear of heaven will be upon you?” He does so because heaven is a place far removed from us, a realm that we can hardly conceptualize. We have to love Hashem while also realizing that He is in heaven and we are on Earth, a place removed from Heaven.

Think of a person who is deeply in love. A person so infatuated that it’s impossible to say goodbye to the one that they are in love with. A person desiring to be the closest that they can possibly be to the other one. The word for this in Hebrew is ahavah, love. That is how someone feels who is dedicated to Hashem. When you’re with someone who you really love, do you need to have a coffee? No. You’re so alive from the feeling of love. You don’t need something to pick you up because you’re so inspired by the connection to Hashem.

Think of a person who is approaching the Queen of England. While he is excited, he is probably trembling with fear of the idea of actually approaching her. How should he act? What should he say? What should he wear? When the time comes for the person to actually meet the Queen, someone who works in the Queen’s office will prep him and that person will say that one of the rules of the Queen is that you cannot touch the Royal person. When he meets her, he must remain physically removed from her, which leads to an emotional separation. This is the way that we approach Hashem the king and judge. The word for this in Hebrew is yir-ah, fear.

We’re removed from Hashem the King, the Hashem in Heaven, but very closely related to Hashem the Father. The Fear of Hashem is called the yirat hashamayim (fear of heaven) because of the remoteness of Heaven instills fear. We never say that the Love of Hashem is ahavat hashamayim (love of heaven) because we want to relate to Hashem in closeness when we are talking about our love for Him.

In Hasidut we talked about the story of the binding of Isaac. From the book Meor V’Shamash, we learned that tradition teaches that Abraham represents, ahavah, love. Abraham loves Hashem from his deepest heart and follows the word of Hashem even when Hashem requests that Isaac is sacrificed. Isaac often represents, yir-ah, fear. Hassidic lore teaches that the experience is a transfer between Abraham and Isaac. Abraham has to give a little bit of his ahavah to Isaac and Isaac has to give a little bit of his yir-ah to Abraham because no one can exist with just one of these components.

If we love someone too much, we take advantage of the relationship. We smother and prevent the other person from living his or her own life. If we are too consumed by Hashem’s power in our lives, we are unable to function because we are constantly walking around in Radical Amazement. If we fear someone too much, we are unable to reap the full benefits of the relationship because we are hesitant of becoming too close. If we fear Hashem too much, we are unable to see His presence in our lives. The ideal is BALANCE. With Hashem and with people.