Being Before Hashem In Whatever We Do

All of the Torah is holy. Every bit of it. Every letter of every word. Lists of names and the Ten Commandments are equally holy. Yet, it is inevitable that certain portions of the Torah speak to us more than others. It may be the content. It may be the circumstances or timing when it was read. It may be other things. Last week’s sedra has a פסוק/verse that I think is especially well timed for this time of year. And I think that at any time it could be a fair motto for guiding our attitudes and choices as Jews.

תמים תהיה עם י-ה-ו-ה א-להיך Be whole with Hashem your God. This mitzvah (according to Ramban it is to be counted as a positive commandment) is stated after the Torah warns us away from various manners of foretelling the future and divination. Right after this mitzvah we are told to listen only to a true prophet. Smack in the middle of this contrast is the command: be whole with your God!

Hizkuni explains the idea ‘tamim’ to be a matter of wholeness; that we shouldn’t think that we can be in awe of anything aside from God. This indeed happens, as Hizkuni points out from the Kutim who were in the Shomron, described in the book of מלכים/Kings as ‘they feared God and worshiped their deities.’ In contrast to this, says Hizkuni, we need to be a whole, unblemished vessel filled with only one thing; that means we must be wholly with God in all our actions and all our thoughts. So said King Solomon in משלי/Proverbs, בכל דרכיך דעהו – in all your ways know Him.

We marked the anniversary of the passing of our holy teacher and guide, Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, this past erev Shabbat. In his book, Musar Avicha, Rav Kook explains the above idea from Proverbs (my translation).

“A person must seek the Holy One in all the ways that he acts. When he is busy with prayer he should seek the Holy One in the understanding of the issues of prayer and appropriate intent with a faith of the heart concerning those same matters of prayer. He mustn’t seek at that time knowledge of other things. Since he is presently engaged in this particular service/worship, the Holy One so to speak is present beside him specifically in this manner; and so that is how he will find Him, and not in some other place.

And when he is engaged in Torah study he must know that he will find the Holy One when he delves deeply to understand a matter in Torah clearly, and to retain and reveiw it well. In this he will know the Exalted One through His Torah, and not in another manner; because at this moment He is revealed in this way.

And so when a person is busy with an act of kindness to benefit his fellow, then he should seek the Holy One only in deepening his attempt at understanding how to benefit his fellow with some great, suitable, and lasting good.

And so in all the manners that one acts. Truly there is nothing in the world that is not for His Exalted honor. Therefore whatever one does should be His command and His will, and through those actions he should seek the Exalted Presence. When one tries with all his mind and abilities to do whatever he is doing completely and wholly in all manners of complete absorption, he will find that he knows the Holy One in all activities. The word ‘in’ means ‘within’, that in the very path or activity one can know the Holy One.”

In an additional note from one of Rav Kook’s notebooks, it says, “when someone does something wholly, whether in thought or deed, he should rejoice in his lot and not pursue anything else at that moment, because the entire universe is folded before him in that specific thing.”

Rav Kook once expressed a wish. “If only all my days could be in prayer.” The truth is, our sages seem to have taught us otherwise. We aren’t capable of only praying all the time! But the rav’s intent was that in everything, at every moment, he wanted to experience clearly that he stands in the Presence of God.

Rosh Hashanah is in a bit less than a month. That is the time that more than any other we recognize God as King in His world. But we can bring some of the holiness and wholiness of that recognition and experience into every day and every thing we do, if we are wholly and solely intent on recognizing Him in His world. In the King’s realm, everything is truly His. All that His subjects do is truly His. All that they have is a benefit of His rule and presence and grace. Nothing occurs outside His will.

The month of Elul is especially a capable time to develop the constant awareness of God’s presence. It is a time especially suited to direct ourselves in all that we do to recognizing and experiencing His presence. In all your ways know Him. In everything, everything! that you do, know Him.

May Hashem bless us that this year we will universally know His Presence, like the waters cover the oceans.

Awaken – Your Lover is Calling You

Eliyahu Shear

We are taught that in the month of Elul, G-d rekindles His relationship with us – and likewise, we rekindle our relationship with Him. In Song of Songs (6:3), King Solomon states, “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.” Our sages point out that the initial letters of this verse, “אני לדודי ודודי לי” spell out the word Elul – אלול – to teach us that it is especially in the month of Elul – the month that precedes the month filled with the main Jewish holidays – when love rules supreme.

As we approach the upcoming festivals in which we rekindle our love for G-d, we spend an entire month engaged in understanding what true love is all about, a far cry from the image presented to us by the modern world and modern media.

Chassidut teaches two approaches to the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people – an awakening from below or an awakening from above. Throughout the year each of us experiences these fluctuations at various different times. Sometimes it is we who wake ourselves up to serve G-d, and He returns to us – awakening us further. At other times we may not feel as enthusiastic. G-d Himself then wakes us, so that we should awaken and realise that He continues to love us and that we should now reciprocate.

King Solomon says that the month of Elul is all about waking ourselves first, and then G-d will awaken to bestow His love upon us. I am for my beloved – and then – my beloved is for me. It is up to each of us as individuals to make this relationship work. This is the service required of us in the month of Elul.

Chassidut explains that in the supernal worlds above, a revelation of the Kingship of G-d is felt, and automatically the fear of the King falls upon us, whereas below the revelation works by a person accepting upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of G-d.

The Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of the Chassidic movement, explains the concept of the ‘Bat Kol’ – a voice which calls out from heaven at all times. Many Tzaddikim – righteous individuals are known to hear this voice calling and informing them what needs to be done. But the truth is that this voice calls to each one of us – all the time. What good does it do if none of us can actually hear it – unless of course we would all be Tzaddikim? The Baal Shem Tov explains that the soul above hears these voices and through this it draws down the awakening to man below. Even though a person does not hear the voice directly, he does do so through a concept taught that “Even though he does not see, his Mazal (spiritual root source) sees.” And through this, a great fear falls upon one.

Our duty then is to do the barest minimum – to open our hearts to the degree of the point of a pinhead, and G-d will continue the conversation, awakening us to immediately be aware that He is constantly with us. It is then up to us to continue the conversation, making our relationship even stronger with G-d – and through this to allow G-d to once again continue even stronger – with the “conversation” at hand.

I am for my beloved. I express my love, yearning to be united. And my beloved is for me. She calls to me letting me know of her love… But love is a two way relationship. Her voice calls out in the month of Elul, sweetly… silently… gently… but the soul is touched and she is stirred to awaken to unite with her lover. Are we listening well enough? Are we letting ourselves be prepared to listen? We are giving our love to her. Are we now prepared to let ourselves engage in a real lasting relationship? As we progress through this month, let us consider these thoughts. Let us listen to the voice cooing from above, waking us out of our slumber, as she calls out, preparing us for the “Day of Judgment” where we wish for only the best of everything for all – in a revealed, manifest and visible goodness.

Let us see life through the eyes of the Baal Shem Tov, and let us hear the voice which is calling from on High.

Rav Shear writes regularly at: