Parashas Bechukosai

This week’s parashah contrasts the loving Divine care we will receive if we keep the Torah diligently with the tides of misfortune we will suffer if we neglect it. Hashem tells us: “If you walk according to My statutes, and guard My commandments and perform them … I shall walk among you – I shall be as God unto you, and you shall be a people unto Me. … But if you do not listen to Me … and you act toward Me in an happenstance way, then, I, too, shall act toward you in an happenstance way.” Hashem wants us to serve Him with constant and consistent devotion. In this connection, the Maggid quotes Shlomo HaMelech’s teaching (Mishlei 23:17): “Do not let your heart envy sinners; just keep it filled with the fear of Hashem all day long.” The Maggid then elaborates on the matter.
Any Torah-observant Jew, the Maggid says, can be called a servant of Hashem in the sense that he submits to Hashem’s will. Yet, Torah-observant Jews can be grouped into two very different types: those who are servants of Hashem in the essence of their being, and those who are servants of Hashem only in an incidental way. The Maggid describes these two types in detail.
A servant of Hashem in the essence of his being is a person who totally subordinates himself and all his faculties to the service of Hashem, on a continuous basis. He is occupied with serving Hashem at all times, day and night. He is constantly filled with fear of Hashem. He does not let up for a moment; he constantly strives to give Hashem satisfaction and actively seeks ways of doing so. Even at night he does not rest; rather, his mind is occupied with planning how he will serve Hashem. As Dovid HaMelech puts it (Tehillim 16:7): “I shall bless Hashem, who gives me counsel; even in the night my inner depths [literally, my kidneys] give me moral instruction.” When he wakes up in the morning, he rises from bed like a lion and prepares to assume his duties. As he takes upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, his face radiates awe and fear. He is always either actively performing a mitzvah, or waiting in attentive readiness for his next assignment.
A servant of Hashem in an incidental sense is not so devoted. When a mitzvah comes his way, he accepts his duty and performs it, but afterward he turns his attention away from serving Hashem, and focuses his mind on worldly matters. Such a person, despite his detachment, is still a servant of Hashem in the sense that he is committed to obeying the the Torah’s laws. He performs any mitzvah he is presented with, even when it is difficult. If, for example, he cannot obtain kosher food, he will suppress his desire to eat and endure hunger rather than taint himself by eating food that is unkosher. And if he is told to either commit one of the three cardinal sins or be killed, he will submit himself to death. But when he is not presented with any special challenge of this sort, and is not actively engaged in performing a positive mitzvah, he is not really serving Hashem – he exhibits no sign that he is bearing the yoke of service to Hashem.
Hashem relates to each of these types the same way they relate to Him. The Maggid brings out this idea with a parable. A king had the practice of giving his servants lavish gifts from time to time, such as on his birthday and other special occasions. But to his doctors he would would not give such gifts. Rather, he would show his doctors kindness only when they were in distress – for example, when they faced attack from soldiers from a neighboring province. In such situations, he would step in and rescue them. The men in the king’s inner circle asked him why he gave gifts to all his servants except the doctors. The king answered: “I reward them according to the way they serve me. When I am well, the doctors have no dealings with me, and they forget me. It is only when I am sick that they come to my service to heal me. In the same way, I aid them when they are in distress, but in normal times I show them no special favor. My other servants, on the other hand, serve me faithfully on a constant basis, and so I find it fitting to give them gifts regularly.”
Similarly, if a person acts toward Hashem in an happenstance way, then Hashem acts toward him in an happenstance way. He generally leaves the person to manage on his own with the natural order of the world. Only when the person faces grave danger does Hashem directly intervene in his life, to rescue him. But if a person is constantly focused on serving Hashem, then Hashem walks with him and is a God unto him in a closely personal way. He constantly watches over him, like a father watches over his son.
Note: Among the events of this week is the shloshim of Rav Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler, ztz”l, renowned posek in Yerushalayim – who, in addition to his vast range of other achievements, published several books in English and Hebrew based on the Maggid’s parables (under the pen-name Yisrael Pesach Sochertov). Below is a list of the English books, which are distributed by Feldheim Publishers.
The Blind Thief and Other Stories, with Moral Insights Based on the Parables of the Dubno Maggid
Run For Your Life and Other Stories, with Moral Insights Based on the Parables of the Dubno Maggid
No Taxes Please and Other Stories, with Moral Insights Based on the Parables of the Dubno Maggid
The Helpful Giant and Other Stories, with Moral Insights Based on the Parables of the Dubno Maggid
Son, Come Back, and Other Stories, with Moral Insights Based on the Parables of the Dubno Maggid
These works are collections of stories with moral insights, geared for children. There is a parallel four-volume Hebrew series entitled Mishlei Mussar Al Pi HaMaggid MiDubno.
Rav Feinhander was intensely devoted to studying and disseminating Torah. For example, in an article about his life, I saw that he typically handled 80-100 halachic queries per day, starting from the early morning, and exerted himself to great lengths to continue handling queries in his later years despite his suffering from severe illness. He was a stellar example of a true servant of Hashem in the sense described in the piece above.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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