TO SERVE GOD
Rabbi David Walk
In this week's parsha we read about the Jews' departure from
We see that in the Jews this week.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein of Yeshivat Har Etziyon discusses the issue in an article on this week's parsha. He explains that we can begin to understand the problem from the following verse: Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there God tested them (Exodus 15:26). In the Hebrew it says that God gave Chok or laws we can't understand and Mishpat, laws which we do comprehend. The Midrash says that the laws God gave were Shabbat and the Red Heifer, the paradigm for mitzvoth we don't quite get. Why doesn't the Torah identify the mitzvoth given? So, Rabbi Lichtenstein says that every mitzvah has two aspects. There is the nature of that particular act and there is also a general significance in terms of submitting to God's will. Part of the preparation for becoming free and independent was this submission to a higher will. That is the test mentioned in verse; passing this test makes the water sweet. This belief in the existence and power of God would eventually release the Jews from their Egyptian security blanket.
It took a whole century, from
Rabbi Lichtenstein's late partner, Rav Amital OB"M, once met with a couple who were beginning to take their commitment to Torah more seriously. They asked which mitzvoth they should start with. Rav Amital answered: Start with mitzvoth you understand and find meaningful, but also accept upon yourselves at least one mitzvah which you do not understand at all, and follow it diligently.
Rabbi Lichtenstein concludes that the highest service of God is the service of one who knows he has the ABILITY to disobey but does not have the RIGHT We are finally free only when we have the moral strength to submit to a higher authority out of a sense of ethical and intellectual commitment, not bribery or force. Dostoyevsky said it: Thou didst desire man's free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide. But it's not easy, and can take a long time. How many years can some people exist, before they're allowed to be free?
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