- February 17, 2023
- Posted by: DR Jack
- Category: Parsha
Upon becoming the Rebbe of Ger, the great sage known as the Sefas Emes made a startling announcement to his chassidim: During the recitation of Hallel on the upcoming holiday of Sukkos, any person who would say the verse in Tehillim that begins, “Ana Hashem — Please G-d…,” with intense concentration and devotion would have all of his prayers answered.
It came as no surprise then that when Sukkos arrived, the chassidim came to the synagogue greatly anticipating the moment they would be able to say those words. They prayed breathlessly, their words of supplication reaching feverish proportions as the service arrived at Hallel. And when the congregation came to the verse, “Please G-d, save us; please G-d, make us successful” (Tehillim 118:25), the din in the great room was explosive. The delirious congregants shouted the words with great enthusiasm and conviction. After praying, the townspeople returned to their homes full of joy, convinced that all of their prayers would be fulfilled.
After several months, seeing no noticeable transformations in their lives, the chassidim decided to send a delegation to the Rebbe to ask what had gone wrong. “We did as you said,” they reminded him. “We cried out the verse, ‘Please G-d, save us; please G-d, make us successful,’ with great conviction, yet we don’t see any changes.”
The Rebbe smiled at them and said, “My dear children, you must have misunderstood me. I was not referring to that verse, but to a different verse found in Hallel — ‘Please G-d, for I am Your servant’ (116:16).”
It is this verse, wherein man declares his absolute devotion to G-d, that contains the ultimate human mission and that, when spoken with proper concentration, yields magnificent results.
The greatest status a Jew can achieve is to be a servant of G-d, and the importance of this idea is reflected in the first mitzvah of Parshas Mishpatim. The pasuk states that a Jew who is sold as a servant remains in his master’s charge for six years, after which he may go free or, if he is content with his situation, he may remain a servant. The option to stay with his master, however, is not encouraged by the Torah, and he is, in fact, punished for this decision. The Torah demands that his ear be pierced.
Rashi, quoting the Midrash, explains the symbolism: This ear, which heard on Sinai “For to Me are the children of Israel servants” (Vayikra 25:55) and still went out and acquired another master for itself, should be pierced (Shemos 21:6). The Torah reminds us that we must always strive to be servants of G-d, not man. This is no easy task; even the greatest sages did not feel they had quite achieved that level of Divine service.
The Talmud (Berachos 34b) records the story of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, who studied Torah together. When the son of Rabbi Yochanan fell ill, he called upon his friend, Rabbi Chanina, to pray for him. The boy soon recovered and Rabbi Yochanan remarked to his wife that only Rabbi Chanina could have merited such Divine intervention. “Had I spent the entire day in prayer,” he told her, “they [in the heavens] would not have listened to me.” Even had he himself prayed all day for his own son, his prayers would not have been answered.
His wife did not understand why. “Is he greater than you?” She asked. “No,” replied Rabbi Yochanan. “But while I am only an officer of the King, he is a servant of the King.” Though they both dedicated their lives to serving the same G-d, their positions were different, in Rabbi Yochanan’s view.
But one would think that an officer holds a higher rank in the King’s court. Would not the words of an officer be taken more seriously than the words of a servant?
Rashi explains the distinction between the two. An officer can enter the king’s chamber only when summoned, but a servant enters and leaves at will. He is at home in his master’s palace. In this sense, he is superior to the officer.
Rashi offers another insight at the start of Parshas Mishpatim. What, he wonders, is the connection between this parshah, which comprises most of Jewish civil law, and the last verses in Parshas Yisro, which describe the construction of the altar in the Tabernacle? This is to teach us, Rashi explains, that the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court, was to meet in the Holy Temple, in a room directly across from the altar.
The positioning is deliberate. One tends to think of avodas Hashem, Divine service, in terms of ritual-prayer, ceremonies, holidays. But often one neglects to associate his day-to-day schedule of activity with the notion of avodas Hashem. Perhaps this is why the Sanhedrin, which adjudicates the laws of Parshas Mishpatim — contracts, torts, property, the stuff of everyday life — was located next to the altar, the center of Divine service. This proximity served to remind those in the Temple, as it should remind us today, that all areas of life are covered by the Torah and find their place in the world of Torah. Hence, all areas of life contain opportunities for Divine service. By behaving properly, in accordance with Torah law in all matters of life, both holy and temporal, one accomplishes avodas Hashem.
My dear chassan and kallah, as you begin your life together, your goal should be to achieve the lofty level of ovdei Hashem, servants of G-d. You should feel at home in G-d’s world, and by building a home of Torah and mitzvos, you will insure that G-d dwells in your midst. Through your efforts, you will merit the fulfillment of your hopes and dreams, as the Gerer Rebbe promised, and you will be blessed together with good health and happiness.