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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeira: With all your heart, soul and resources
In the first paragraph of the Shema it says: "And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your resources." The Torah expects of us to do good as part of serving G'd, not just as a natural inclination, or for any personal benefit. What does it mean that one should love and serve G'd with one's evil inclination? The obligation to love G'd with "all of one's resources" refers to that a person has to be ready to sacrifice all his possessions, rather than transgress any of G'd's commandments. How can the Torah expect a young child who just turned Bar or Bat Mitzvah to love and serve G'd with all one's heart, soul and resources? It seems that the Torah expects us to serve G'd on the same level as our Patriarchs. The efforts of the righteous person in developing good character traits assists his offspring for generations, enabling them to follow in his footsteps. The trials and tribulations that our Patriarchs went through were preparations for all coming generations to enable the Jewish people to emulate them. Each one of our Patriarchs served G'd in their own unique way. The Akeidah showed Abraham's total dedication and love for G'd to the extent that he was ready to sacrifice his beloved son for G'd's honour. Thousands of young Jewish men and women dedicate themselves to live on modest incomes and dedicate their lives to study and teach Torah. We must remember that we are a link in a long chain of proud Jews who added strength to the coming generations as they overcame their tests and trials.
Serve G'd with all your heart
Every day we read the portions of Shema as part of our morning and evening prayers. In the first paragraph it says (Devarim 6:5): "And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your resources." Rashi quotes the Talmud (Berachos 64a) that explains that "with all your heart" refers to loving and serving G'd with both our good inclination, as well as our evil inclination.
Love and serve G'd with one's good inclination
We can understand how one can love and serve G'd with one's good inclination. Every person likes to do good, but the reason why a person does good varies from one person to another. Some people are naturally inclined to be caring and helpful to others. Others will perform acts of lovingkindness in order to receive honour and recognition. The Torah expects us to do good as part of serving G'd, not just as a natural inclination, or for any personal benefit.
Love and serve G'd with one's evil inclination
But what does it mean that one should love and serve G'd with one's evil inclination? Rabbeinu Yonah, as quoted in his students' commentary on the Talmud, says that this refers to when a person rejects his evil inclination that challenges him to sin. This, says Rabbeinu Yonah, is considered serving and expressing one's love for G'd in full measure, just like when one follows one's good inclination to do what is right. The Rashb"a (Responsum 5:55) explains that our desire to serve G'd, and our love for Him, should be so great that it overpowers all other cravings and desires, and thus does not even give the evil inclination a foothold to sway us from doing G'd's will.
All one's soul and resources
Rashi continues and quotes the Talmud's explanation of what it means to love G'd with "all one's soul". In general, says the Talmud, this applies if one is being forced to perform idolatry, adultery, or murder. In such as case, one must be ready to give up one's life rather than committing one of these great sins. When one is ready to sanctify G'd's name in this way, it is the ultimate expression of one's love for G'd. Finally, the obligation to love G'd with "all of one's resources" refers to that a person has to be ready to sacrifice all his possessions, rather than transgress any of G'd's commandments. Rashi quotes an additional interpretation from the Talmud that explains that "all one's resources" means that whatever way G'd deals with a person, one must accept it with love.
Apply to Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
Every instruction in the Torah applies to every Jewish person from the time of Bar and Bat Mitzvah. The obvious question therefore arises: how can the Torah expect a young child who just turned Bar or Bat Mitzvah to love and serve G'd with all one's heart, soul and resources? It even seems to be way beyond most adults.
Torah expects service like Patriarchs
The question becomes even stronger when we see how the Sifri comments on this verse. The Sifri says: "And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart … like our Patriarch Abraham who G'd describes as (Yeshayahu 41:8) 'Abraham who loved Me'. And it further says (Nehemiah 9:9-10): 'You are HASHEM the G'd, Who chose Abram … and gave him the name Abraham, and You found his heart faithful before You.' 'With all your soul' like Isaac who allowed himself to be bound as an offering on the altar, and 'with all your resources', you shall thank G'd like Jacob, who said, (Bereishis 32:11): 'I have been diminished by all the kindness and all the truth that You have done with Your servant. For with my staff I crossed over this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.'" It seems that the Torah expects us to serve G'd on the same level as our Patriarchs. How can we be expected to reach their high level of serving G'd and be like them? However, we find a similar statement in Tana D'Vei Eliyahu (Eliyahu Rabba Chapter 25) where it says that every member of the Jewish people is obligated to say: "When will my deeds reach the deeds of my ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?"
Noble character traits
We may find the answer to these questions in the words of Rabbi Chaim Valozhiner in his commentary on Pirkei Avos (5:4). He quotes a verse in Mishlei (20:7) where King Solomon says: "The righteous person walks in his completeness, fortunate are his children after him." Rabbi Chaim explains that this verse refers to how the efforts of the righteous person in developing good character traits assists his offspring for generations, enabling them to follow in his footsteps. These noble character traits become second nature and through the efforts of the ancestor can easily be picked up by the descendants (see Torah Attitude: Yom Kippur: Judgment in mercy and mercy in judgment, September 19, 2007). The road has been paved for them already. Thus when Abraham overcame his ten tests he prepared the way for his offspring, the Jewish people. This is part of our spiritual heritage from Abraham.
Preparation for coming generations
The same applies to Isaac and Jacob. All the trials and tribulations that our Patriarchs went through were not just personal tests for them. Rather, it was a preparation for all coming generations to enable the Jewish people to emulate our great Patriarchs. As the Ramban writes at the beginning of Parashas Vayishlach (Bereishis 32:4): "The Torah describes the tribulations of Jacob and how G'd saved him to hint that his offspring would go through similar ordeals. Whatever happened to Jacob in his struggles with his brother Eisav, repeats itself time and again throughout our exile by the descendants of Eisav."
Unique service of G'd
Each one of our Patriarchs served G'd in their own unique way. Abraham taught his fellow beings to believe in monotheism, through his love for G'd and mankind. Isaac excelled in his fear of G'd (see Bereishis 31:42). His readiness to sacrifice himself for the honour of G'd was most evident at the time of the Akeidah. Isaac displayed complete trust in his father's instructions when he told him that he was to be brought as an offering by G'd's command. Only a person who is ready to give his life for G'd's honour could accept such instructions.
The Rashb"a (Responsum 5:55) explains that the Akeidah showed Abraham's total dedication and love for G'd to the extent that he was ready to sacrifice his beloved son for G'd's honour. At the same time, it showed the readiness of Isaac to sacrifice himself for the sake of G'd. Throughout our history, numerous of our brothers and sisters have faced the ultimate challenge of either sacrificing their lives, and the lives of their children, or giving up their belief in the One G'd. Time and again, they allowed themselves to be killed to sanctify G'd's name. From where did they draw this strength? Says Rabbi Chaim Valozhiner, this is in our genes as an inheritance from Abraham and Isaac. When they overcame their tests, they paved the way for all of their offspring throughout the generations.
Dedicated to teach and study Torah
Thousands of young Jewish men and women dedicate themselves to live on modest incomes and dedicate their lives to study and teach Torah. In this way, they follow in the footsteps of our Patriarch Jacob who the Torah (Bereishis 25:27) describes as a person dwelling in the tents. Rashi quotes from the Midrash Rabbah (63:15) that this is a reference to the study halls of Shem and Eiver. Jacob was ready to forfeit the wealth of his father, says the Rashb"a, in order to go and study Torah, and thus paved the way for future generations to do likewise.
Long chain of proud Jews
So when the Torah instructs us to express our love for G'd "with all of our heart, with all our soul, and with all of our resources", we can be expected to be ready to do so already from a young age since our Patriarchs already prepared us and paved the way for us. Obviously, every individual has freedom of choice. But no one can say that this is too difficult for me or more than I can handle. No one should be tested with these difficult tests, but in the small daily challenges that we all encounter we must remember our strengths and live up to G'd's expectations. At the same time, we must remember that we are a link in a long chain of proud Jews who added strength to the coming generations as they overcame their tests and trials. And it is our responsibility to do our share and thus secure that future generations will stand even stronger and be able to continue this chain.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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